As Tom Waits once said, "Here comes that big, Black Mariah."
Now, he was talking about an old-school Paddywagon, but I'm talking about a way-cool film festival.
This Friday night, March 7, SCAD welcomes the 33rd annual Black Maria Film and Video Fest to Trustees Theater. It's the 16th time the attraction has graced our fair city. Since 1981, it's curated a mesmerizing showcase of new, critically praised short films across more than 20 states in a variety of venues.
The Black Maria Fest (named after famed inventor Thomas Edison's landmark 1890s motion picture production facility in West Orange, N.J., (which was itself named after the fabled police vehicle of Waits' song) is something of a must-see for anyone curious about this year's crop of outstanding short subjects. Each year, a jury made up of leaders in the indie film world selects between 40 and 60 short films out of several hundred entries.
Now, it's virtualy impossible to comfortably fit 60 individual films (even shorts) into a program that runs between 90 and 120 minutes in totality. So, the films featured along the tour vary by location. Organizers work in advance with a local liaison - in this case, SCAD film and TV professor Michael Chaney (who first learned of the Black Maria as a grad student, when one of his own films was included on the tour). That liaison advises them on which of that year's accepted shorts might be of the most interest to their particular community.
This means the films on display will be chosen specifically for Savannah.
Think of this program (which also includes a live post-show Q&A) as the filmic equivalent of leisurely grazing at a phenomenally eclectic and well-stocked table of hors d'oeuvres from all around the world. With admission only $5 (and free to anyone with a SCAD ID), it should be at the top of your to-do list this week. Showtime is 7 p.m., and the program should be suitable for ages 14 and older.
I'm happy to report that on March 9, former Savannahian Patrick Longstreth returns to town (he now resides on the West Coast) for a special, one-show-only free sneak preview of "Hellyfish," the tongue-in-cheek giant sea monster film he co-directed with Rob McLean.
Shot on Tybee a couple of years back, but only recently completed (the film boasts tons of state-of-the-art computer graphics and other types of expensive, time-consuming post-production special effects), this 12-minute blast of bikini-clad babes, a ludicrous storyline and copious amounts of both modern-rock music and gore was conceived by the two directors and their producer Katie Schuck, all of whom graduated from SCAD.
The short, which is clearly modeled after the type of atomically campy mutant-creature-with-silly-name cable shockers which have made the SyFy channel's checkered reputation (think "Sharknado," "Dinocroc" and "Mansquito"), stands on its own - but is also designed to stoke interest in investors willing to finance a full-length feature version of the same tale. Inspired by the true story of the nuclear bomb which lies missing in the sand somewhere just off Tybee Island, the film imagines that radioactivity leaking from that ordnance wreaks ecological havoc, resulting in scores of aggressive, mutant jellyfish which can "walk" on land - including a giant, Godzilla-sized beast with the capability to easily destroy the Tybee Pier and Pavilion.
Unabashedly ridiculous and openly derivative of prior movies of its ilk, this is no mere student film. Its production value and CGI are top-shelf, and rival - if not best - the level of professionalism found in actual SyFy network movies. Funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $10,000 from more than 130 backers (most in our area) and starring a cast of locals, "Hellyfish" is currently being submitted to major festivals.
However, the filmmakers wanted to make sure folks in our area had the chance to see it first. This "unofficial sneak preview" is free and open to the public. The movie will be projected onto the giant outdoor video wall at B&D Burgers, 209 W. Congress St., near City Market, and Longstreth will be on hand to answer questions. The show starts at 7 p.m. You can learn more and view the amazing trailer at www.hellyfish.com.
And finally, speaking of ridiculous and bizarre movies, on March 12, the Psychotronic Film Society celebrates the 47th anniversary of the release of one of the wildest low-budget horror films ever made: Brazilian write/actor/director JosÃ© Mojica Marins' surreal 1967 underground hit "This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse."
Shot in B&W for a paltry sum and never officially released in the USA, this sequel to Marins' all-time cult classic from 1964, "At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul," is equal parts spooky and hilarious. Once more, the depraved, sadistic and blaspheming undertaker "Coffin Joe" (played to the hilt by Marins himself) returns in search of the perfect woman to bear him a son. With the help of his hunchbacked assistant Bruno, he kidnaps six ladies and subjects them to bizarre experiments, while renouncing god and generally treating the other inhabitants of his small, poor Brazilian village abhorrently.
Although it helps to have seen the first film in this trilogy (Marins released the final installment, believe it or not, in 2008!), this one stands completely on its own, and can definitely be enjoyed by those unfamiliar with "At Midnight" - which was, in fact, the first horror film ever made in Brazil. Heavily censored by the Brazilian government at the time of its release (under pressure from that country's Catholic hierarchy), "This Night" is an anti-authoritarian message film masquerading as a cheap thriller. The PFS proudly screens the full, uncut and restored version, in its original spoken Portuguese with English subtitles. Showtime is 8 p.m. at The Sentient Bean, with $7 admission for mature viewers only.
Until next time, see you at the movies, and don't forget to turn off that cell phone. We all know what that can lead to.
Jim Reed directs the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah. Read more at www.filmsavannah.com.