By Shelley A. Sackett
For the eleventh straight year, Salem Film Fest 2018, the weeklong all-documentary film festival, arrives just in the nick of time to brighten the spirits of weary North Shore winter warriors. With a diverse program of more than 60 feature and short films, parties, discussions, and opportunities to meet visiting filmmakers in intimate settings, Salem Film Fest is the perfect antidote to those Nor’easter blues.
The festival kicks off on Thursday, March 22 at 5:30 pm with an opening night reception at Old Town Hall featuring a video installation by local filmmaker Elayne Cronin and a Virtual Reality film by WGBH’s FRONTLINE and NOVA.
Salem Film Fest runs March 22-29 with screenings in Salem at Cinema Salem, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), the National Park Service Visitor Center and Old Town Hall. For the first time, screenings will also take place in Beverly at The Cabot and at Endicott College’s Rose Performance Hall.
“Although we will always be rooted in Salem, we are excited to increase the opportunities for audiences outside the city to see these works. We want the whole North Shore to consider this their documentary film festival,” said Salem Film Fest Co-Founder and Co-Festival Director Joe Cultrera in a press release.
With its focus on artistically well-told stories, SFF 2018 offers a broad menu of films on subjects that range from art & music to global politics, from legal dramas to soulful journeys. During the week, audiences will have the rare opportunity to mix and match films on such eclectic topics as: Irish Big Wave surfers; the British punkers, Sleaford Mods; Fred Beckey, the mountaineering “dirtbag”; Father Divine, a black minister who claimed to be God; a subculture of women who dress as mermaids; and giant swamp rats that invade Louisiana.
As one of the largest all-documentary film festivals on the East Coast, Salem Film Fest prides itself on the post-screening Q&As, where filmmakers, film subjects and filmgoers engage in thought-provoking conversations that often continue beyond the theater.
“Audiences have a great opportunity to speak with filmmakers at Q&As after screenings, but also out and about in Salem as they take in the downtown. Filmmakers tell us all the time how much they enjoy the recognition they get and how much they enjoy interacting with our audience,” said Salem Film Fest Program Jeff Schmidt.
Filmmaker Lindsey Grayzel, who directed “The Reluctant Radical” and will attend its East Coast premiere screening on Sunday, March 25 at CinemaSalem at 7:20 pm, is looking forward to hearing how the audience reacts to her film. “It still thrills me to hear a group collectively giggle or sigh during certain scenes,” she said by email.
“The Reluctant Radical” follows climate activist Ken Ward through a series of civil disobediences as he breaks the law to fulfill his personal and moral obligation to future generations. Ward spent over 15 in Massachusetts, living in Amherst, Boston and Hull.
Grayzel met Ward in 2015 and found his personal history compelling. “He made me feel differently about climate change after our first conversation,” Grayzel said. Ward, whose activist journey took him from environmental organizations and lobbying to civil disobedience and direct action readily agreed when Grayzel asked if she could make a documentary film about him. “It was the one approach he hadn’t yet tried,” she said.
Grayzel hopes audiences will realize that they have the power to slow down and prevent the worst-case scenarios of climate change and “commit themselves to joining the fight for our future. We are not powerless to change the course ahead,” she said.
In addition to connecting with other filmmakers and “seeing some great films,” Grayzel is also looking forward to the post-screening Q&A. “I’m curious what kinds of questions and issues the film brings up for people, and if my themes came across clearly,” she said.
Filmmakers are expected to be present at more than half the screenings, including “This Is Home” and “Beauty and Ruin.”
“This Is Home,” a New England premiere, will screen at The Cabot on Friday, March 23 at 6:45 pm. The film is an intimate and timely portrait of four Syrian refugee families arriving in America and struggling to find their footing as they learn to adapt to challenges, including the newly imposed travel ban.
East Coast premiere “Beauty and Ruin” spotlights Detroit and its recent bankruptcy, which put all the city’s assets on the table, including the Detroit Institute of Art’s priceless collection. The film follows the struggle that unfolds between the retired city workers, who want the art sold to fund their pensions and health care, and the museum, which wants to preserve the city’s cultural treasure for future generations. The film screens at PEM on Saturday, March 24 at 8:10 pm.
Other films of special note are: “Becoming Who I Was” (a boy discovers that he is the reincarnation of a Tibetan monk and takes an epic journey with his godfather in a story of faith and unconditional love); “The Judge” (the first woman judge to sit on a West Bank Palestinian Shari’a court redefines how the law treats women); “Mr. Fish” (an outrageous editorial cartoonist tries to raise a family and maintain his defiant voice when dangerous humor has no market); and “Siberian Love” (after 20 years of living in Berlin, director Olga Delane journeys back to her roots in a small Siberian village, where she is confronted with traditional views of relationships, life and love).
For those who can’t wait for the March 22 kick off reception, SFF is partnering with local businesses to hold three launch parties — Notch Brewery & Tap Room (Thursday, March 15 from 4-11 pm), Far From The Tree Craft Hard Cider (Friday, March 16 from 5-9 pm) and Deacon Giles Distillery (Saturday, March 17 from 6-10 pm). SFF volunteers will be on hand to answer questions and sell tickets.
A complete lineup of films, listings of all events, and information on how to buy tickets is available at salemfilmfest.com.