Film Lovers: 'You Be the Judge,' Your Chance to Choose this Sunday
Public pre-screening of indie submissions to the 30th Thomas A. Edison Black Maria Film Festival
The court comes to order this Sunday, 2 p.m., for the seventh annual session of "You Be the Judge." Expect plenty of courtroom drama as area film lovers converge on the New Jersey Arts Incubator (NJAI) at Essex Green Plaza to preview the contenders for inclusion in the 30th edition of the world-famous Thomas A. Edison Black Maria Film Festival. Post viewings, the participants choose their favorite short film or video. The "Audience Selection" short will later tour nationwide.
Entries have been pouring in all fall. The winner or winners are assured that their films will be seen and even have a shot at a nomination in the best short subject category at the Oscars.
We can't talk much about the films to be screened; there can be no prejudicing the jury before the verdicts are delivered. But there will be a bonus showing of a past winner chosen from these provocative titles: "MISSED ACHES," "Gordita," "Train Home," "Pickles for Nickels" or "Voodoo."
"We are interested in short films that are inventive, insightful, and have an uncommon spirit," Black Maria founder, director and himself a short film maker, John Columbus said. Columbus is a longtime West Orange resident.
Prior to 2004, the Black Maria winners were chosen exclusively by panels of experts — critics, film makers, film teachers: "Weengaged film scholars, authors and curators from such institutions as the Museum of Modern Art Film Department, the National Gallery Film Division, the Whitney Museum Media Program and college professors as finalist jurors," Columbus said.
The plot thickened in 2004 when Black Maria board member emeritus and Emmy Award winning documentarian Ken Mandel established the not-for-profit West Orange Film Society (WOFS), which he continues to co-direct. The longtime West Orange resident, whose "Building Alaska" recently premiered on New Jersey Network, contacted Columbus about a people's choice event to open each season of WOFS's film showings.
The idea became reality and was an instant success, attracting enthusiastic, knowledgeable audiences not afraid to speak their minds.
"Layperson film lovers bring real world insight on the films shown at the 'You Be the Judge' pre-screening event," Columbus said. "It gives the Festival a grass roots perspective on the submissions. At Black Maria, we really appreciate Ken Mandel's idea and contributions."
This year, as before, the West Orange Film Society, which attracts members from statewide, is the host of "You Be the Judge."
Township resident Columbus established the Black Maria Film Festival to celebrate short films and videos. All genres of independent films are welcome — documentary, animation, experimental, abstract, plotted, comedy, drama, you name it. Each year about fifty contemporary films are accepted by Black Maria and then tour nationally and internationally.
Columbus chooses which films travel where and he accompanies and introduces most every presentation. "We hand pick which films to show to match the goals and audience at each venue," Columbus said.
The festival was named for the world's first film studio, Thomas Edison's Black Maria. All the Edison films were shorts, sometimes featuring turn-of-the-last-century celebrities such as Annie Oakley. Visitors can tour a reconstruction of the original 1893 studio at the Thomas A. Edison National Historic Park on Main Street in West Orange.
The NJAI is in the rear courtyard of the Essex Green Plaza, down from the AMC mural. Ample parking, handicapped accessible. There is a $7 admission. Call (201) 200-2043 for additional information.