BOSTON SPRINGS A FETHIVAL: Salem Film Fest kicks off the season with a dose of reality

SFF-Banner3There are nearly two dozen film festivals in and around metro Boston every year, and by far the busiest season is between March 1 and May 1, when SIX festivals run nearly back to back (and in some cases, with a slight overlap) each year.

But did you know that out of all those festivals each year, there is only ONE major all-documentary festival in the metro area? And it’s not one of the ones marked “Boston”, either.

The eighth annual Salem Film Fest kicks off on Thursday March 6 for eight days of both satisfying documentary junkies and engaging the general filmgoing public. Presented by CinemaSalem, the Peabody Essex Museum, and Salem Visitors Center, the 2014 fest has as in past years rounded up an absolutely killer lineup of must-see docs.

We made our first sojurn to Salem Film Fest last year, and unfortunately, the monster snowstorm we had the night before completely knocked the wind out of our sails, but we did manage to catch some real winners there, including the excellent Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride, one of our fave docs for the entire year. The folks at CinemaSalem, the Fest’s primary venue and without a doubt one of the best, coolest theatres anywhere in the Metro Boston area, were super sweet, very film-oriented, and made it one of the best fests we’ve ever attended. Which is why we’re going back for twice as long this year- we’ll be staying in Salem from Wednesday through Saturday and hope to catch eight or nine films, plus maybe catch a few more via screeners in the days before and after the fest itself. And maybe schmooze with filmmakers and other fans attending the fest as well!

Salem Film Fest operates a bit differently than most film festivals – instead of filmmakers paying to have their films considered, the filmmakers receive a screening commission from SFF to be a part of the celebration, and as a result,  2/3 of the filmmakers come up to mix and mingle with the often near or complete sell out crowds that attend the fest.

Among this year’s offerings are some of the most critically acclaimed docs of the past 12 months, including 2013 SXSW Audience winner Maidentrip, 2013 SXSW favorite These Birds Walk, Toronto gem Watermark, and this year’s Sundance and True/False monster hit Rich Hill, plus more – in total, just over three dozen other documentaries worthy of your consideration.

Here’s the complete rundown of films – descriptions as they appear on the SFF website:

Canada / 2013 / 83 mins
FILMMAKER IN ATTENDANCE – Love, solitude, critical mind, art, individuality, home, work, humor, friendship, intoxication, praise, meaning, body, duty and death. To savor them all would presumably be to truly live.

USA / 2013 / 93 mins
BENDING STEEL is a deeply moving and inspirational documentary exploring the lost art of the oldetime strongman and one man’s struggle to overcome limitations of body and mind.

Serbia/USA / 2013 / 84 mins
FILMMAKERS IN ATTENDANCE – An eccentric New York brass band, a virtuosic group of struggling Roma Gypsies and reigning Serbian champions converge with half a million fans and transcend political and ethnic borders at the world’s largest trumpet festival in Guča, Serbia.

USA / 2013 / 41 mins
FILMMAKER IN ATTENDANCE – BROOKFORD ALMANAC follows a year in the life of young, first-generation farmers Luke and Catarina Mahoney as they work to keep alive their dream of running a biologically diverse farm and organic dairy in New Hampshire.

USA / 2013 / 84 mins
For the eight young men in the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, “brotherhood” is literal: they’re all sons of anti-establishment jazz legend Phil Cohran, who raised them on Chicago’s tough South Side on a strict diet of jazz, funk and Black Consciousness. Now, as they negotiate their own careers, the brothers must decide whether their father’s principles really are their own.

China via Finland / 2013 / 87 mins
FILMMAKER IN ATTENDANCE – Portraying two minds in identity crisis – the troubled contemporary-art giant Wang Guangyi and the up-and-coming photographer Liu Gang – CHIMERAS freeze frames China at a moment when its aspirations are at war with its sense of identity.

Russia/USA / 2013 / 90 mins
Eleven year old Masha Kulabokhova is about to be adopted into fourteen year old Cami Diaz’s family. Masha grew up in a Russian orphanage; Cami was born and raised in Wisconsin and has been the exclusive focus of her parents’ love her whole life. The process of Masha becoming part of the Diaz family is going to change both girls forever in THE DARK MATTER OF LOVE.

Russia via Austria / 2013 / 89 mins
ELEKTRO MOSKVA showcases Russia’s “electronic history” – from the Theremin and the synthesizer to the bugging devices of the KGB. Inspired by spherical-cosmic chill-out sounds and experimental tapestries of noise, collectors and tinkerers rave about the quasi-futuristic devices. This “electromagnetic fairytale” provides the first concise analysis of the Soviet and pre-Soviet Union’s electronic music, but ELEKTRO MOSKVA is much more than just a music film.

USA / 2013 / 83 mins
FILMMAKERS IN ATTENDANCE – EVERYBODY STREET illuminates the lives and work of New York’s iconic street photographers and the incomparable city that has inspired them for decades.

Canada / 2013 / 90 mins
FILMMAKER IN ATTENDANCE – In 2006 Pamela Masik, a contemporary artist, set out to create a large-scale exhibition of paintings focused on women who went missing over the previous two decades on the streets of Vancouver.

2013 / 60 mins
FILMMAKERS IN ATTENDANCE – The ten best documentary films created by Massachusetts high school students are presented on the big screen.

Germany / 2012 / 88 mins
In FORGET ME NOT, David Sieveking portrays the domestic care of his mother, who, like millions of others, is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

USA / 2013 / 75 mins
FILMMAKER IN ATTENDANCE – A FRAGILE TRUST tells the shocking story of Jayson Blair, the most infamous serial plagiarist of our time, and how he unleashed the massive scandal that rocked The New York Times and the entire world of journalism.

USA / 2014 / 60 mins
FILMMAKERS IN ATTENDANCE – This Salem Film Fest Sneak Peek brings you behind the frontlines! We’ll screen scenes straight out of the edit room from an upcoming FRONTLINE episode and engage in a revealing discussion that takes you deep inside the filmmaking process.

USA / 2013 / 120 mins
Darwin meets Hitchcock in this true-crime tale of paradise found and lost. THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR: SATAN CAME TO EDEN is a fascinating documentary portrait of a 1930s murder mystery as strange and alluring as the famous archipelago itself. Fleeing conventional society, a Berlin doctor and his mistress start a new life on uninhabited Floreana Island.

USA / 2013 / 78 mins
HERE WAS CUBA tells the inside story of the Cuban Missile Crisis and what happened over 13 days in October 1962 when the fate of the world lay ultimately in the hands of just three men.

China, England, USA / 2012 / 77 mins
Fifty percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2050, it will be eighty percent. THE HUMAN SCALE delves into the work being done to prepare for the coming population growth and the many intricacies of life in a mega city.

KASHEER: Art, Culture and the Struggle for Azadi
India-controlled Kashmir via USA / 2014 / 51 mins
FILMMAKER IN ATTENDANCE – KASHEER explores the complexities of life under military occupation from the point of view of three local artists living in the Kashmir Valley.

Scotland / 2013 / 80 mins
FILMMAKER IN ATTENDANCE – Megan Boyd’s entire world – her life, livelihood, and longings — was wrapped in her devastating fishing flies — little bits of feather, fur and fancy tinsel spun around tiny metal hooks. In every strand, in every fiber, there was a mystery, a fairy tale, a truth waiting to be unraveled.

USA / 2013 / 74 mins
Find out how a poor, single, African-American mother from segregated 1930s America winds up as one of the world’s most notorious and successful jewel thieves.

USA / 2013 / 77 mins
FILMMAKER IN ATTENDANCE – MAGICAL UNIVERSE captures the world of Al Carbee, an 88 year old reclusive outsider artist who spends all his days alone in a massive house in Maine creating art — most of it featuring Barbie Dolls in elaborate dioramas.

Australia, Galapagos islands, Netherlands, South Africa, the world / 2013 / 82 mins
Fourteen year old Laura Dekker sets out—camera in hand—on a two-year voyage in pursuit of her dream: to be the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone.

USA / 2013 / 60 mins
FILMMAKERS IN ATTENDANCE – The Mass Reality Check is a college doc shorts showcase for college and university students and recent graduates working in short documentary and experimental documentary film.

USA / 2013 / 68 mins
FILMMAKERS IN ATTENDANCE – New York’s Onodaga Nation has produced some of the world’s top lacrosse players, but few of them have ventured outside of the Native American community. The Thompson brothers dream of changing that.

Russia / 2013 / 84 mins
METAMORPHOSEN takes audiences on a stunning and honest visual tour of Russia’s South Ural region, home to the Mayak Nuclear Facility and its victims, who describe life in one of the world’s most radioactive-contaminated spots.

Canada / 2013 / 77 mins
MY PRAIRIE HOME takes us on a playful, meditative and at times melancholic journey through Rae Spoon’s queer and musical coming of age, set against majestic images of the Canadian prairies’ infinite expanses.

Nepal / 2013 / 79 mins
Pema was born in a Himalayan village as the only son of six children, but grew up in Kathmandu. Now 19, he has to choose between going back home and marry a local girl to take care of his parents, or study and live in the west.

USA / 2013 / 94 mins
OUR VINYL WEIGHS A TON tells the story of the birth and success of avant-garde Los Angeles-based record label Stones Throw Records.

India / 2013 / 80 mins
FILMMAKER IN ATTENDANCE – In a city with 15 hour power cuts, hundreds of people risk their lives to steal electricity. With the first female chief of the electricity company vowing to eliminate all illegal connections, the lines are drawn for a battle over electricity.

USA / 2014 / 91 mins
FILMMAKER IN ATTENDANCE – An examination of challenges, hopes and dreams of the young residents of a rural American town.

USA / 2014 / 28 mins
FILMMAKERS IN ATTENDANCE – A compilation of short documentary tangos around the town, from the perspective of local and visiting filmmakers. Subjects include bingo, breakfast, bubbles, candy, mattresses, puppies, records, sewage treatment, shoes, swimming, trains and more.

Pakistan / 2013 / 72 mins
In Karachi, Pakistan, a runaway boy’s life hangs on one critical question: where is home? The streets, an orphanage, or with the family he fled in the first place? Simultaneously heart-wrenching and life-affirming, THESE BIRDS WALK documents the struggles of these wayward street children and the samaritans looking out for them in an ethereal and inspirational story of resilience.

Japan / 2012 / 63 mins
FILMMAKERS IN ATTENDANCE – A poem about a city, its people, and 20,000 crows. TOKYO WAKA is as much a carefully etched, lyrical portrait of Tokyo and its denizens as it is a full-fledged rendering of the surprisingly rich life of crows. It’s an evocative encapsulation of post-bubble Tokyo, when people caught in the flux of change seek their own precarious perches in an uncertain future.

USA / 2013 / 71 mins
FILMMAKER IN ATTENDANCE – A proposed uranium mill pits the need for jobs and stability against health and the environment in the rural west. URANIUM DRIVE-IN captures the emotional debate pitting a population desperate for jobs and financial stability against an environmental group based in a nearby resort town.

Canada / 2013 / 92 mins
Every living thing requires water. We interact with it in a myriad of ways. But how often do we consider the complexity of that interaction?

Peru / USA / 2013 / 84 mins
FILMMAKER IN ATTENDANCE – As children in some of the most remote parts of the world connect to the Internet for the first time, WEB considers the impact of global connectivity on all of our lives.

Malawi / South Africa / USA / 2013 / 96 mins
FILMMAKER IN ATTENDANCE – Despite unbelievable circumstances, young Malawian William Kamkwamba builds a power-generating windmill from scraps parts, effectively rescuing his family from famine and poverty. This feature-length documentary tells the story of a unique individual whose incredible invention sets in motion a series of events that will forever change his life.

Complete information on screening days and times, as well as ticket and pass info, can be found at and tickets can also be picked up at CinemaSalem on selected dates – check their website at for more info.

Salem Film Fest kicks off what we have come to call the “Bothton Springs A Fethival” season, and we have a complete roundup of all the festivals – in chronological order by start date  Salem Film Fest, Irish Film Festival, Boston Underground Film Festival, Boston LGBT Film Festival (which moved up a month this year, throwing it into an already insanely busy mix), Boston International Film Festival, and Independent Film Festival of Boston – on our annual podcast of the same name every May, as well as featuring weekly coverage of films in each festival on Subject:CINEMA and daily festival updates with schedules and such here on eCinemaBoston.

This year, in addition to our usual print coverage on eCinemaBoston as well as eCinemaOne and IndieFilmSpotlight, we’ll also be bringing you some mini-podcasts and some video coverage as well, and we can’t wait to showcase what a wonderful film town our beloved Hub is.  Boston does film festivals – and hell, EVERYTHING –  better than anyone else! And yes, we know Salem isn’t QUITE Boston – it’s twenty-five miles north of Boston proper, and at the north edge of the Metro area – but trust me, Salem undoubtedly ROCKS and always will!

Lest I forget, it’s only fair to mention that there IS another all-doc festival in the area, but it’s further north and a few miles out of what we refer to as Metro Boston – The Newburyport Documentary Film Festival occurs every fall at the Newburyport Screening Room. We’ll have coverage of that one when it happens as well.

But for now, decide which films you can’t wait to see and then join us at the 2014 Salem Film Fest March 6-13 – we can’t wait to see  you there!