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Short stuff
SCAD's annual Black Maria showcases experimental work

The Black Maria Film Festival, April 14 at the Trustees Theater, isn't quite as involved as the mammoth Savannah Film Festival.

Despite its brevity, however, it's one of the city's keystone cinematic events.

Black Maria is a one-night-only screening of a handful of short experimental films, submitted from all over the world.

Although there are many dozens to choose from every year - juried and chosen by the New Jersey-based Black Maria brain trust - every city, including Savannah, has a program designed specifically for its attendees.

Michael Chaney, a professor of Film and Television at SCAD, is the Savannah half of the programming equation. It's one of his favorite events of the year.

"It gives us the opportunity to see new work created by a vast diversity of film artists," Chaney says. "Although much of the work was created with minimal budgets and facilities, this stuff is miles above what you would find on YouTube. Some of this work took years to create."

Chaney believes the Black Maria experience is important, not only for film buffs, but for students exploring the potential of the medium. "If you want to see what's happening NOW with the cutting edge of cinema this is the perfect event," he enthuses.

"It gives us a glimpse into the newest most exciting applications of film and animation that are emerging. It shows us aesthetics and content that might be incredibly commercially popular five or 10 years from now.

"And the best part is that it's accessible. You don't have to know anything about art or film history in order to enjoy and appreciate it."

The Black Maria Film Festival takes its name from the tiny, dank New Jersey studio where Thomas Edison created the first moving pictures. In 1981, the Edison Foundation provided the $3,000 needed to start the festival, which was initially held in West Orange, where Edison lived and worked.

"My position is, short films are every bit as legitimate as feature-length films," festival founder John Columbus told us in a 2010 interview. "The difference is, a short film is the equivalent of a poem - and a feature-length film is the equivalent of a novel."

Every year, a jury - including Columbus himself - comb through 70 "poetic" submissions, and take their favorites on tour to more than 80 American cities. This is SCAD's 12th consecutive turn as a Black Maria host.

"The thing about the Black Maria," says Chaney, "is that, regardless if it's experimental, documentary, animation or narrative, you will always see something new, something you've never quite seen before.

"And the films are short! If you discover that you're not crazy about something then just sit tight for a couple of minutes and you'll probably love the next film."

Here are a few highlights of the Savannah Black Maria program ... with their official synopses.

Flicker - 10 min. (2010) The senior thesis film from SCAD alumnus Landon Donoho. The sky is unnaturally dark, no sun, stars. Below the gloomy firmament, in his cave, a bearded man, Nicholas, lives among his tattered books, broken globes and old maps and hobbles together a light bulb. Is this a post-Apocalypse world? The man completes his work and as his domain quakes he emerges from his hideaway only to see a desolate landscape, but something catches his gaze.

Hail - 3 min. (2010) by Emily Hubley, South Orange, NJ. This whimsical hand drawn animation is based on a song composed and performed by the musician Hamell on Trial. Hubley's art illustrates the song about three hate-crime victims who meet up in heaven. This lyrical piece was created as part of a documentary by Vic Campos about the song's composer.

Retrograde Premonition - 5 min. (2010) by Leighton Pierce, Iowa City, IA. This work is part of 15 pieces that will explore consciousness. It looks and sounds like floating mind - the vicissitudes of thought, feeling, and the senses. Shot with a digital still camera, handheld at long exposures and then weaves the stills into something more. Each individual image bears the mark of time from the motion blur - a blur that may in fact contradict the apparent motion of the frame. Pierce indicates that he composes the entire sound-scape, once picture composition and editing is complete.

Carpe Diem - 5 min. (2010) by Alison Neale, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This is a campy and biting musical satire, which takes place aboard a flight from big oil crazed Houston, Texas to Ft. McMurray, the capital of the Alberta, Canada Tar Sands. The "VP" of Hexxon oil finds his world collapsing around him as the market goes into a tailspin and investors jump ship. The "VP" is confronted with a two-headed fish; evidence of big oil's environmental impact in this over-the-top hors-d'oeuvre operetta.

Black Maria Film Festival

Where: Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.

When: At 8 p.m. Thursday, April 14

Admission: $5 public; free with valid SCAD ID