By: Chris Gilmore/TRT Reporter—
SALEM, Mass.—As New England’s leading all-documentary film festival, Salem Film Fest (SFF) celebrates its 12th year with over 70 feature and short-length films from around the globe with numerous filmmakers and industry representatives in attendance from March 29-April 4, according to festival organizers.
“Salem Film Fest is a passion project for all of our festival organizers and volunteers,” said Jeff Schmidt, Program Director, SFF. “This is our twelfth year, but every year we search out memorable stories and bring as many filmmakers to the north shore as we can.”
Screenings will be held at CinemaSalem, the Peabody Essex Museum, the National Park Service Visitor Center in Salem, The Cabot and Endicott College’s Manninen Center for the Arts in Beverly, and the new Black Box Theater in downtown Peabody.
“We’re thrilled that as our festival programming has grown, we’ve also been able to grow our audience.”
The robust list of films selected this year come from a wide social justice lens.
“Inherently, many documentaries are projects undertaken by filmmakers who are trying to bring attention to a problem,” explained Schmidt. “We do feel it’s important for the festival to reflect the current times and so we do end up screening many films focusing on social justice issues. But as a film festival, it’s important that the films we screen simply tell great stories. While we want our audience to feel like they learned something new about their world, we don’t want them to feel like we’re forcing them to eat their vegetables.”
This year and for the first time, SFF offers a “special audio description and closed captioned screening of The Weight of Water for visually and hearing impaired audience members, its press release read.
According to Schmidt, the films screened at the fest are selected through a “democratic process,” and in comparison to other fests of its kind, SFF has a distinctive procedure that sets it apart.
“We are different than most festivals in that we are “invite only,” we don’t charge submission fees, and we pay an honorarium for every feature doc we screen,” Schmidt said. “I invite filmmakers to submit their films for consideration by our selection committee and over the course of about 6 months we view, discuss and debate – it’s a democratic process.”
Although the fest is “invite only” Schmidt explained that films can become a part of the circuit through a variety of channels.
“There are a lot of different ways a film can find it’s way to the festival,” said Schmidt. “As program director, I research what films are playing other festivals, I talk with SFF alums, local filmmakers, and distributors … and sometimes out of nowhere, a film just falls into your lap—it isn’t an exact science.”
Filmmakers are scheduled to be present for more than half of the screenings, giving audiences a unique advantage to learn about the documentary process, the people involved and their passion for nonfiction film, a SFF press release read.
“A central part of the festival experience is the opportunity to interact with attending filmmakers. The conversations that take place after our screenings are always engaging and thought provoking,” said Jeff Schmidt, Salem Film Fest Program Director.
SFF 2019 features more than 25 films making their World, International, East Coast, New England, or Massachusetts premiere, including Hail Satan? by Lynn native Penny Lane (Our Nixon) that spotlights the Salem-based Satanic Temple and its often theatrical mission to uphold religious pluralism.
“We focus on well-told stories with strong visual approaches that let narratives wind their way through the human experience,” said Joe Cultrera, Salem Film Fest Co-Founder and Fest Director. “We offer a diverse group of features and shorts along with parties, discussions, student film showcases, and opportunities to meet visiting filmmakers in casual settings.”
The complete film lineup, along with summaries is posted at www.salemfilmfest.com, where you will also find listings for filmmaker receptions and music events.Tickets can be purchased online.