Back in 1999, not long after Michael Chaney joined SCAD faculty as a professor of film and television, one of the first things he did in his new position was to encourage the school to bring the Black Maria Film + Video Festival to town.
One of the most unique and beloved touring film fests in the U.S., every year since 1981 it has presented a dazzling showcase of new, critically acclaimed short films in more than 65 diverse venues across more than 20 states.
In the more than 15 years since the Black Maria has routinely stopped in Savannah, it has become a must-see annual event for anyone interested in keeping up with the very best the short film format has to offer.
At 8 p.m. April 19, the latest installment returns to town for one show only at SCAD's Arnold Hall Auditorium, 1810 Bull St. The entire program runs just under two hours. Admission is free for SCAD students and faculty (with ID), and $5 for the general public.
Named after famed inventor Thomas Edison's movie production studio in West Orange, N.J., (which opened in 1893 and is generally considered the first real movie studio in North America), the Black Maria Film + Video Fest promotes fresh, challenging cinema.
Juried by leaders in the world of indie film, each year it selects 40 to 60 movies (none running longer than 60 minutes) out of several hundred submissions, with a focus on innovation, creativity and poetic expression through the medium.
"I became aware of the Black Maria when I was a graduate student in Boston," says Chaney, who is also an indie filmmaker in his own right. "One of my professors suggested I submit a short film I made. It was accepted and I was taken by how many places the film (wound up being shown through) the festival."
Chaney says he adores this particular event because it has carved a very specific niche for itself amongst the scores of touring film fests which crisscross the U.S.
"The Black Maria hits dozens of cities around the country, from Maine to Texas to Alaska," he elaborates. "It's so unique and important because it features work that explores new territory. You're not going to see films like this in mainstream venues. You don't have to go to Sundance or Toronto or New York to see them. Here, the festival comes to you."
Chaney (who plays a key role in selecting which films from the Black Maria's 2013 roster will be included in our local screening) describes watching short films as being "a bit like reading poetry."
"We've become quite a snack culture," he opines. "Consuming bits and pieces of media from multiple avenues of distribution, such as YouTube, Facebook and mobile devices. The Black Maria transcends this sort of snacking by presenting short works of exceptional skill and artistic expression."
While the professor says the Black Maria's staff always loves to visit Savannah because of our city's famed hospitality and vibrant nightlife, because of a scheduling conflict, he's been drafted to fill in for those folks - meaning it's Chaney who'll introduce the event and moderate a Q&A with the audience after the show. However, given his long history with the organization as a liaison for SCAD, he's not too worried about filling their shoes.
"I've been working with (the festival's director) for over 15 years," he chuckles. "By this point, they think I've got an idea of how to do it!"
Read my complete interview with Chaney at www.filmsavannah.com.
Other upcoming screenings of note:
â€¢ April 20 at the Lucas Theatre, it's a rare chance to see the 1952 classic "Singin' In The Rain" on the big screen. Commonly regarded as one of the greatest movie musicals of all time, it's a lighthearted tale of Hollywood in the 1920s that stars Gene Kelly (who also did the fantastic choreography), Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds. $8 ($5 for students and seniors with ID), at 7 p.m.
â€¢ April 24 at the Sentient Bean Coffeehouse, the Psychotronic Film Society celebrates the 49th birthday of iconic cult film actor Crispin Glover (best known for key roles in "Back To The Future," "Charlie's Angels," "Wild At Heart," and "The Doors") with a Mystery Screening of one of his greatest performances. The exact film title will not be revealed until showtime. $7, at 8 p.m., for mature audiences.
Jim Reed directs the award-winning Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah - presenting indie, foreign, classic and cult cinema year-round. Read more from Jim on Savannah's film scene at filmsavannah.com.