Our Story


Since 1981, the Thomas Edison Black Maria Film Festival has been celebrating and preserving the diversity, invention, and vitality of the short film. The Festival is named after Thomas Edison's original West Orange film studio dubbed the "Black Maria" because of its resemblance to the black-box police paddy wagons of the same name. Edison’s films did for the eye what his phonograph did for the ear. He made 75, 20-second long films in the “Black Maria.” The earliest included magic shows, plays, vaudeville shows with dancers and strongmen, cowboys, boxing matches, kisses, and sneezes.

The Thomas Edison Black Maria Film Festival is an international juried film competition. We have embraced our mission for decades by focusing on short films including those which shine a light on issues and struggles within contemporary society. We advance and exhibit the work of diverse filmmakers from across the US and around the world. These artists often represent an under-served constituency who may not have the opportunity for live public exhibition.

We welcome all genres including narrative, experimental, animation, and documentary that push the boundaries of film. The festival's touring collection addresses topics such as the environment, public health, climate change, substance abuse, gun violence, sustainability, immigration, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ issues. Short films are celebrated as central to the festival - not as a sidebar to feature length films.

Black Maria welcomes all genres including narrative, experimental, animation, documentary, and hybrids. We celebrate films which address the environment, race and class, family, sustainability, immigration, the LGBTQ community, social justice, and people with disabilities. Short films are celebrated in their own right - not as a sidebar to feature length films. We bring our extraordinary collection of films to the people by reaching out to audiences in diverse settings including universities, museums, libraries, community-based organizations, cinemas, and schools. We visit inner city, rural, and suburban locations as varied as Jersey City, NJ; Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; and Gloucestershire, UK. Custom curated film programs are showcased in all these unique venues throughout each year.

New screenings are always being added. You can see a list of those currently scheduled here.

If you are interested in arranging a Black Maria program at your organization, you can find contact information here.