Salem Film Festival 2013

Come to Salem, see the world

by Brian Lepire

salemfilmfestAs warm spring air waits around the corner, another annual event many eagerly await is poised to return to one of New England’s most famous seaports.

Salem Film Fest, the all-documentary film festival now in its sixth year, will return to Salem, MA March 7 – 14, 2013 featuring over thirty outstanding documentary films from around the world sure to captivate audiences. SFF 2013 looks to be a standout year in the festival’s history, with appearances by several acclaimed local filmmakers including new Salem resident Damien Echols; the inaugural year of a college filmmaker showcase; and the launch of collaboration with Frontline, the PBS television series revered as one of television’s flagship public affairs series and home to groundbreaking documentaries.

“I’m really excited about the range of this year’s line-up,” said festival co-founder Joe Cultrera. “(We have) films from just about every continent that are entertaining, beautiful, and real conversation starters.”

With 32 documentaries featured at SFF 2013, Salem Film Fest continues on its mission to showcase the year’s most intriguing and innovative documentaries. Many featured filmmakers are slated to appear this year, hosting question and answer sessions following their films and participating in the informative panel discussions the festival has become known for.

Twenty-two of the films featured at SFF, a popular destination for audiences and filmmakers alike, will be making their East Coast or New England premieres. The festival’s opening film, THE GHOST ARMY, is the world premiere of local filmmaker Rick Beyer’s look into one of World War II’s best kept secrets, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. The film investigates how the unit, a collection of soldiers and artists, went about creating elaborate diversions that played such a significant role in the war’s outcome that their story was kept “top secret” for fifty years.

Along with an appearance by Beyer, SFF 2013 will also host acclaimed local filmmaker David Sutherland, whose newest film, KIND HEARTED WOMAN, will be making its world premiere at this year’s festival. The screening is the first of a two-part series that will be featured on Frontline, focused on an Oglala Sioux woman’s struggle to overcome abuse and build a new life for her family. Frontline’s Executive Producer David Fanning will host a panel discussion in collaboration with the film’s premiere at SFF, bringing together the show’s veteran producers to look back on Frontline’s outstanding contributions to the world of documentaries and journalism on the show’s 30th

“For 30 years, Frontline has been based in Boston and utilizing the documentary form to highlight American public affairs,” Cultrera said. “From the inception of Salem Film Fest we’ve talked about reaching out to them to recognize this continued commitment. This year we are finally able to honor them, and their very presence at SFF honors us.”

One of SFF 2013’s highlights will surely be the area premiere of WEST OF MEMPHIS, which provides new insight into the legal battle to free Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, aka the West Memphis Three. The three men were imprisoned for the tragic murders of three young boys in
West Memphis, Arkansas and became the subject of the influential Paradise Lost documentary series. Echols, who produced WEST OF MEMPHIS alongside his wife, Lorri Davis, and Peter Jackson (LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy), was eventually released from death row and now makes his home in Salem. Salem Film Fest organizers are excited to have Echols on hand at the film’s SFF 2013 showcase to discuss his work in making the film and his life since moving to the area.

SFF 2013 will also see the launch of the festival’s new initiative to showcase short documentary films by Massachusetts college students. Mass Reality Check is intended to provide local film students at the beginning of their careers with a platform to present their works in short, experimental
documentaries. This new addition to SFF’s line-up is sponsored by Documentary Educational Resources, The LEF Foundation, The Independent, and North Shore ART*THROB.

There will be five awards presented at SFF2013. Along with the SFF Jury Award for best overall documentary and the Editing Award, festival goers will vote for their favorite film to receive the SFF Audience Award. Festival organizers
are thrilled to announce the return of the American Cinematographer Award for Best Cinematography, awarded by American Cinematographer Magazine for exceptional documentary film photography. And the Alliance of Women
Film Journalists will present, for the second year in a row, the auspicious AWFJ’s EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Film.

Featured films will be shown at three venues in downtown Salem, MA. In addition to SFF’s home at CinemaSalem, films will play at Salem’s National Park Visitor Center and SFF longtime sponsor, the Peabody Essex Museum.

Salem Film Fest, through the hard work of devoted volunteers, has become a shining example of the worldwide appeal of documentaries and the power of the New England documentary film community. As SFF2013 draws closer, SFF organizers will tell you, “Come to Salem. See the World”.

To learn more about Salem Film Fest, including a complete list of featured films, visit

Brian Lepire is currently a contributing editor for Junkyard Arts. A professional writer and editor, Lepire’s work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including North Shore ART*THROB and TRASH Magazine.

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