The North Bergen Public Library hosted the 35th annual Black Maria Film Festival and announced the winners of the New Jersey Young Filmmakers contest on Thursday, Oct. 20. Black Maria is a traveling festival that has celebrated the development of short films for 35 years.
For the anniversary, the contest featured short films created by high school students and college undergraduates throughout the state. Cash awards were given to three students from different high schools in New Jersey.
Local High Tech High School graduate and Weehawken resident Hali Merrill, 17, won first prize for a film she made with classmates in French class last year.
“This is a short experimental and spoken-word piece as a tribute to my grandmother.” – Deanna Rivera
Merrill created a noir film about a detective following a man’s wife to figure out if she’s having an affair. Merrill brought her main actress and recent classmate, Olivia Viteznik, and two other friends to the event to watch the short film.
Second place winner and Carteret resident Deanna Rivera, 18, submitted her short film “Watermelons” before graduating from Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools. Her story, which follows her grandmother before she passed away June 2015, is presented partly in voice-over.
Jersey City resident Miles Yuen, 13, finished a documentary after the contest deadline this summer, so he couldn’t enter it into the festival competition, but was interested enough in the event to come watch. William La Rosa, the director of the Hudson County Division of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, invited Yuen and his mother Wendy Tom to the festival, since Yuen is interested in filmmaking.
“They did such a great job on the documentary, and they got interviews from the writer, Jules Witcover, who wrote about it, and historian John Hallanan. They got inspired,” Tom said.
Yuen’s documentary for National History Day was about the infamous “Black Tom” explosion in 1916 on an island in the Hudson River off what is now Liberty State Park Terminal. Yuen worked on the documentary with classmate Ryan Shull, and both are currently working on another documentary about the murals around Jersey City.
“We had an idea to bring film to Hudson County for libraries,” Executive Director Jane Steuerwald said. The festival has been to numerous libraries around the nation.
La Rosa said, “In this case, for the Young Film Festival, this is for emerging professionals.”