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March 7, 2013

Reel stories: Salem Film Fest celebrates today's documentary

Salem Film Fest celebrates the truth and beauty of today's documentary

SALEM — If you are tired of reality TV, you might want to check out some documentary films at the sixth Salem Film Fest, which opens tonight and runs through next Thursday.

Rather than forcing reality into a few stale formulas, as the networks have been doing for years, the 34 films at this year’s festival each provide a unique look at the world we all share.

“It’s a really solid lineup, on many levels,” said Joe Cultrera, program director for the festival. “We look for films that aren’t just one thing — but are good stories, well-told and technically sound.”

The film fest for documentaries is also a full-blown festival that will include an opening event for VIPs, film fests for high school and college students, a movie trailers party, a filmmakers big bash party and filmmakers breakfast, and three forums with panel discussions.

Cultrera, a Salem filmmaker who has created several documentaries of his own, worked with a committee to select the final lineup of films from 120 entries, which filmmakers from around the world were invited to submit.

“We’re open to see what was out there,” Cultrera said. “We don’t go in with a focus.”

They do, however, tend to favor films with a low profile.

“We don’t generally go toward festivals that have a huge distribution or a big-name narrator that will ensure success,” Cultrera said. “We’re looking for films that are as good or even better than those, but films that don’t get that kind of release and are made independently of the system.

“That’s what we’ve been successful at, is finding those kinds of films.”

One exception to this rule is “West of Memphis,” a controversial documentary about the case of current Salem resident Damien Echols, who was on death row in Arkansas until his murder verdict was overturned.

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