February 1, 2023

Touring Film Festival Will Present Animation, Documentaries, and More

AT THE SALON: This still is from the documentary “Inside the Beauty Bubble,” among the works to be screened at the 42nd Annual Thomas Edison Film Festival’s in-person premiere at Princeton University’s James Stewart Film Theater on February 17.

By Anne Levin

Back in person after the pandemic, the Thomas Edison Film Festival (TEFF) returns to Princeton University February 17-25 with a screening, a virtual live-streamed discussion with filmmakers, and seven Stellar Award-winning films that can be watched on demand.

Formerly known as the Black Maria Film Festival and originally named for Thomas Edison’s West Orange film studio (dubbed the “Black Maria” because of its resemblance to the black-box police paddy wagons of the time), the festival is an international juried competition that has been around for more than four decades. This is the fifth year that the Thomas Edison Media Arts Consortium has collaborated with Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts.

The Consortium also showcases the New Jersey Young Filmmakers Festival and the Global Insights Collection, an archive of films focusing on the environment, LGBTQ+ subjects, people with disabilities, international issues, race and class, and films with themes of social justice.

“As usual, it is a varied program with a lot of new work that covers all the genres,” said Su Friedrich, a professor of visual arts at the University, of the upcoming events. Friedrich had a film of her own in the festival three years ago. “There is a huge variety of work from all over the world,” she said. “It’s always an interesting surprise for us, because there are many more films included in the selection, but Jane [Steuerwald, the festival’s director]
programs each show somewhat in mind of the venue where it will be showing. So we never know until she curates, but it is always very strong.”

First on the festival agenda is an in-person screening of five Stellar Award-winning entries at the James Stewart Film Theater, 185 Nassau Street, on February 17 at 6:30 p.m. A reception will be followed by the five award-winning films, after which a Q&A with filmmaker Janelle VanderKelen will be held. On February 18, the live-streamed discussion with filmmakers begins at 6 p.m., hosted by Steuerwald; festival associate and juror Henry Baker; and curator emerita of the National Gallery of Art, Margaret Parsons. The five Stellar Award-winners and two additional award-winning films will be available on demand February 18-25.

There were 585 submissions for the 2023 festival, from every continent except Antarctica. The jurors chose 117 films for the 2023 collection, and awarded the top prizes. Following the premiere in Princeton, the films will be made available for screenings in the United States and abroad.

The Stellar Award-winning films are Cornucopia, an animated feature by two filmmakers from Vienna, Austria; the documentary Inside the Beauty Bubble from two filmmakers from California; the experimental Language Unknown by a filmmaker in Wisconsin; The Boy Who Couldn’t Feel Pain, a narrative film by an artist from Germany; and The Shimmering Extraordinary, in the genre of screen dance, in which six short films tell the stories of six individual dancers. The two additional films are the documentary In Love with a Problem, and Chicken, winner of the festival’s Diversity, Equity, Access and Inclusion Award. Both are by filmmakers from Vancouver, Canada.

Asked what makes the TEFF unique, Friedrich said, “It’s unique, period. There are thousands of film festivals now, and they benefit their local communities. But TEFF is unique in that it brings together these films that not only show in their first location, but travel all around the country. I don’t know of any other festival that does that.”

Admission is free to the screening/reception, livestream, and on-demand viewing. Visit arts.princeton.edu for links to all events.