Salem Film Fest Kicks Off In Salem, Official Doc Selections, New Venues

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, where you will also find listings for filmmaker receptions and music events.Tickets can be purchased online.

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3 Comments on "Salem Film Fest Kicks Off In Salem, Official Doc Selections, New Venues"

  1. Tammy Alexander | April 4, 2019 at 1:18 pm |

    Dear Editor,
    I am so disturbed. I viewed was Why I Can’t I be Me Around You at this film festival and was excited to see a story about a trans person. However, as a transgender woman, I am horrified. Worse, I am appalled that the film festival would allow such a film to be screened in the first place. As a life-long activist for trans education and rights and having worked on the Yes on 3 campaign extensively, this documentary does exactly the opposite of what so many in our community have been fighting against in the first place. I found myself in a place of despair after viewing it. While all trans women and trans people in general have different journeys to transitioning, this film kept going back and forth with male or female pronouns, even using highly defamatory terms that the right wing conservative likes have used to degrade us. This film was anything but educational and it calls into questions why this film was selected in the first place. It was reckless with big repercussions and further perpetuates incorrect information about the trans community. I get that this was a story about a non-binary person, which is an important part of our community. However, the filmmaker did not make that clear and instead used words that were derogatory toward women like me, to describe Rusty. It was wicked messed up. I don’t get it. I don’t get why such a propaganda-like film would be shown. I am so insulted. I had planned being out at the screening as trans woman but there was no way I felt comfortable doing so, even after the first 10 minutes of the film.
    Sincerely, Tammy

  2. Ben Power | April 4, 2019 at 1:20 pm |

    Dear Editor,

    Terms like “shemale” and shim” are from another era – like the 1940s and 50s. Today, they are considered disrespectful and an insult by the trans community because they are sensational. They also do not take seriously our gender identities as trans women or trans men.

    There is nothing wrong, of course, with dual gender or gender blended people, but those particular terms the movie uses are outdated and offensive. They were invented not by trans people but by cis people to describe us. It is wrong to use the words of non-trans people which trans people ourselves do not use and really dislike. NO ONE in the trans community uses these words today. So, this filmmaker really dates himself and exposes his ignorance about how to refer to us.

    Also, for a cisgender white man to show a completely naked body of a post-op trans woman in his film is exploitative. It objectifies the trans woman and strips her, not only of her clothes, but of her humanity. Trans women and trans men are so much more than just our private parts!

    Transphobia take many ugly forms, including certain words used about us and how our bodies are portrayed. In my opinion, this movie is trans phobic and I support your decision not to sponsor it.

    Ben Power

  3. Yesenia Montague | April 4, 2019 at 1:21 pm |

    Dear Editor,

    How dare you support the SFF after the insulting film to the trans community? I am furious that the Times supported this festival in the first place. Did you know the film was like this?

    Thank you for taking my call today and listening to my rant. I’ve supported The Rainbow Times for a long time now and will continue to do so, but you really missed the mark this time by “approving” of this film and supporting the fest.

Comments are closed.