The Black Maria Film Festival Comes to Montclair State

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Published October 6, 2016
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The Montclarion
black maria film festival
The Black Maria film festival came to Montclair State for first time. Photo Credit: Anthony Gabbianelli

The Black Maria film festival came to Montclair State for first time.
Photo Credit: Anthony Gabbianelli

On its 35th anniversary, the Black Maria Film Festival showcased five unique short narratives and documentaries at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center.

For the first time in its history, the festival came to the museum last Thursday night to showcase five short films centered around sports.

The Black Maria is an independent film festival that travels and receives short films from across the world. Started in 1981, the film festival was named after police patty-wagons that locals during Thomas Edison’s time called “Black Marias,” which were also the nicknames for funeral hearses.

Jane Steuerwald, the festival’s director, was looking for something different with the films included this year.

“We had a retrospective series of films at anthology film archives in New York City, which is a highly-venerated film collective and cinema for independent film,” Steuerwald said. “I curated a program of five programs of work from the Black Maria film archive from 2000 to 2015.”

She went on to explain that he had to look through 15 years of film to curate five programs about different styles of film, like animation, experimental, documentaries and narratives.

“It was really special,” Steuerwald said.

“Anyone who enters work into the Black Maria Festival is entering at a level playing field,” Steuerwald said while explaining the selection process for the films. “You could be Steven Spielberg and you will get the same treatment as Jane Doe who nobody has ever heard of.”

Dave Kaplan, the director of the Yogi Berra Museum, organized the event. Kaplan said a good friend of his, who worked at the Black Maria told him, “You ought to think about making the museum on the tour. They could do a sports film because they match all the types of films to each venue they visit.” Kaplan said, “We always do movies, usually full-length documentaries, but I thought this would be a very interesting concept to do at the museum and really celebrate the independent spirit of film making.”

The festival had five short films in store for those who attended, each pertaining to a different sport. The first film was “Born into This,” a documentary about a 19-year-old Middleweight boxer named Junior “Sugar Boy” Younan, who was trained by his immigrant father, Sherif. Sherif trained his son for 14 years and the two are starting to make it big in the boxing community.

The short film shows the bond between the father and son, whether it was them eating out at an Italian restaurant with the rest of Junior’s team, or the two bickering about Junior living out on his own at age 18. The documentary closes with Junior winning his sixth boxing match with ease and had subtitles reading that he is now part of Jay Z’s sports agency.

“Laps” was the second documentary shown. The documentary was about inmates of California’s San Quentin State Prison who had found peace in their lives through long-distance running. The inmates, who were either lifers or serious offenders, were filmed on a normal day of training for the annual 26.2-mile marathon. Some of the prisoners had been in prison since their teens. One inmate had been in prison for the last 42 years and another was 37 years old and already had a 16-year-old daughter.

“The End of Blessings” was the third film and was a narrative about a cyclist out on several Sunday bike rides. The cyclist passes by an elderly Italian couple who had just come home from church to sit on their porch. Each time the biker passes by their home the older gentlemen would yell, “Andiamo, Andiamo.” Toward the end, the cyclist noticed that the couple had not been on their porch in some time. On the last bike-riding sequence, the older woman is sitting on the porch without her husband.

Though a film of very few words, albeit Italian words, this film seemed to be everyone’s favorite of the night. Kaplan was a fan, saying that the film was very intriguing to him.

“You didn’t know where it was going,” he explained, “no narration, the soundtrack was very compelling, too.”
Jantzen Rogalski, a junior television and digital media major at Montclair State also really enjoyed “The End of a Blessing.”

“I liked how the old Italian guy was the only one who talked,” Rogalski said.

“I wanted to expose them to something different,” Kelly Whiteside, assistant professor in the School of Communications and Media, said. “We don’t do a lot of film and I thought it would be a change of pace.”

Two more documentaries and another narrative were also shown Thursday night. The narrative was from Norway and was about two base-jumpers who try to honor a fallen friend from a previous base-jumping experience. Stormy weather comes and the two face a decision, whether to honor their fallen friend and jump, or turn back and head down the mountain.

One of the documentaries was about a man who looks at his life with cerebral palsy through the lens of baseball. The other was similar to the first documentary about boxing, but with a horse jockey instead. The person the documentary focuses on, similar to Junior, was brought into riding horses because of his father. The film looks at his life growing up and his aspirations for his career.

The Black Maria Film Festival is an annual event that travels around the country and the world, and maybe it will make its way back to Montclair State.

“I would absolutely have [the Black Maria Film Festival] come back next year,” Kaplan said.

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