Connected \\ March 14, 2018

Sketches of Salem

Entering its 11 year, Salem Film Fest is one of New England’s largest documentary film festivals. A community wide event, with PEM serving as a presenting sponsor and a main venue, the films represent a diverse collection of the year’s best work from around the world. One of the best parts of SFF, comes before the actual screenings when Salem artists, business owners, characters and neighbors are featured in shorts created by local and visiting filmmakers. I caught up with SFF organizer and filmmaker Perry Hallinan to go behind the scenes of the Salem Sketches.

How did the idea for the sketches begin?

Salem Film Fest founder Joe Cultrera and I had the idea to create mini docs around 90 seconds in length based in Salem that would showcase local stories before the national and international documentaries that play each year in the Salem Film Fest. We created five videos that year and to date we have 48 not including this year's batch. As filmmakers, these short sketches offer a certain freedom to be artistic in telling local stories in a way that is hard to do in most day to day production and editing jobs. We jump into the field for three hours and see what stories can be collected. The editing for each piece takes about three days.

  • Salem Sketches #1, Small Town Train is about John Wahtne's model train world filled with incredible detail from the region. The seven member band, Black Dog Brother, came to our office to score the film.
  • Salem Sketch #2, Morning Glory, is a tour of Salem that begins at the Salem Diner at sun-rise and ends at Ziggy’s Donuts during sunset with a musical track from the Dejas.
  • Salem Sketch #3, Snow Place Like Salem, shows Salem in the aftermath of a big snowstorm. The intro to this Sketch opens with with a plow truck trying to free another plow truck from a snow drift by ramming plow to plow with the soundtrack by Machine 475, ‘Does anyone know how to tango?  
  • Salem Sketch #5 Beauty Day is about a very crowded hair and nail salon on Saturday Morning

Salem Sketch #4 Polar Plunge takes place down at Winter Island with a music score from Jeff Savlon and Hannah Cranton. For this one we put a waterproof camera on one of the brave souls so that the viewer could go swimming as well.

Salem Sketch #22 takes us on a summer morning to Baker's Island Lighthouse, Salem, MA.

How do you come up for the ideas for them?

In 2014, the sketches grew into a bigger feature for the festival. This is when it became clear that this project started to become very special to the public and something they look forward to seeing every year. I think it's because people find it fun to see their home and local business owners or people they see day in and day out on the big screen. We opened the Salem Sketch program up to local and visiting filmmakers who want to participate and if they have an idea we tell them our guidelines. There are all different styles because of the different filmmakers involved but collectively they all convey all the different personalities that comprise our culture and economy in Salem.

Salem Sketch #6 takes us to the cobbler's shop on New Derby Street.

How did you come up for the sketches for this year?

For this year we are expanding our borders to include stories from other parts of the North Shore. There are two nature Sketches this year. Milk Weed for Monarchs and Donkey Hugs. The first is about the efforts of Dwane Taylor who collects and nurtures monarch butterfly eggs from the milkweed in his backyard. Safe from hungry predators the collected eggs pupate and 2000+ monarch butterflies fly to Texas from his backyard. The second is about rescue animals that are currently being rehabilitated in Hamilton by the Equine Rescue Network. This organization saves donkeys and horses from kill auctions.

During last summer’s solar eclipse, we recorded down at the Salem Willows. A community viewing party of the cosmos with everyone peering skyward with protective sunglasses made for some cool visuals. Another sketch is about the long standing Open Mic at Gulu-Gulu hosted by Brian Donnely, Jeff Savlon and Lucas Custer which came to an end this winter after 9 years. It’s certainly a time of transition. There seems to be themes of metamorphosis, transitions and healing emerging in this year’s sketch program.

Salem Sketch #14 shares the wit and wisdom of Salem's own Preacher Jack.

Salem Sketch #15 takes us behind the scenes as the kids from the Phoenix School work on their own short docs.

How do you think the sketches promote Salem's unique community and also build a sense of community at the festival?

The festival is of course focused on showcasing global stories in this corner of the world.  But as local filmmakers, it is a useful creative practice to delve into your own community to find those interesting and idiosyncratic worlds which provide a colorful window into how we live here on the North Shore of Massachusetts. I think as these stories accumulate over the years they will provide a unique sense of our culture and community for future generations to see and appreciate.  We are building a collection of local stories that hopefully future generations can enjoy. Fifty years from now, you can bet there will be a Salem Sketch Heritage Day.

Blog Sffbeauty And Ruin

Beauty and Ruin
Marc De Guerre / USA via Canada / 2017 / 75 Mins

Does art matter to a city on the verge of extinction? With Detroit in bankruptcy, masterworks from the Detroit Institute of Art are in peril. Beauty and Ruin screens at PEM Morse Auditorium Saturday, March 24 at 8:10pm.

Tickets for films screened at PEM may be purchased at or call 978.542.1511. A limited number may be purchased at PEM the day of the film. For a complete schedule, see

Facebook Twitter Email
Related \\ Stories You’ll Love