Plenty of local talent helped inspire the Salem Film Festival, but geography played a role as well. "We're in a funny place," says Jeff Hart, co-coordinator of the festival.
"We're between Portland and Eugene, and both of those cities have a pretty jumping cultural scene. But we have a lot of people here who don't want to drive there all the time, so we knew if we got a festival going, people would come out for it."
That's happened in a big way.
Since morphing from a smaller event in 2006, the Salem Film Festival has grown to include filmmakers from around the country, as well as honorees that include Salem native and Napoleon Dynamite star Jon Heder.
"We knew that Salem could do this," Hart says. "We knew we could have a real festival - bring in high-quality presentations, professional films, filmmakers, really do it up right. Salem was overdue for something like this."
That first year hosted 17 filmmakers and their products from around the United States, plus a few foreign imports. Over three days 3,400 people saw movies in three different venues. By 2007, five venues screened 52 films, and attendance had grown to almost 3,700. Not bad for an all-volunteer operation, and a big sign Salem is more than ready to be put on the film festival map.
"The community and the businesses both really like it," Hart says. "We've gotten great support from sponsors, and the downtown merchants love us being there. Everyone involved is volunteering their time, and really has a drive for putting on a professional, slick, well-presented event honoring filmmakers from all over and films that we want to share with the audiences here."
Partners in the festival include the Historic Elsinore Theatre, Salem Cinema and Allied Video Productions, as well as Chemeketa Community College and Willamette University. The city of Salem kicks in with some occupancy-tax funds, while the Salem Convention and Visitors Association and the Statesman Journal help out with marketing chores.
In addition to the screenings, the festival produces a series of panel discussions with subjects ranging from documentaries to independent film production. The filmmakers in attendance also participate in question-and-answer sessions after their movies are screened. Bringing in big names is certainly a part of the festival's appeal, but Hart says it's much more about showing quality work. For that reason, the Salem Film Festival doesn't have a consideration process as part of a call for entries, but chooses the films in advance.
"Other festivals charge a fee to be considered," Hart says. "We basically curate our festival. It gives us a bit more control - we don't hope that they give us good films; we go out and get them. That's worked out really well for us."