BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — There are thousands of people coming to the Salem Film Fest, which opens tonight, to see some of the best documentaries from around the world.
Here’s some advice: get there early.
There is a bonus this year that may stir as much buzz as some of the major films, but filmgoers may miss it if they dally at the popcorn counter. Before every documentary, the festival is showing “trailers,” or mini-documentaries about life in Salem that are no more than two minutes in length.
These 21 “Salem Sketches” by filmmakers from Salem, Boston and New York City will take viewers places they’ve never gone before — and, in one case, may not want to go — and introduce them to people they may never have met.
In “Collective Flow,” for example, local filmmakers Perry Hallinan and Joe Cultrera venture inside the South Essex Sewerage District plant on Fort Avenue, which handles the raw sewage from Salem, Beverly, Peabody, Danvers and Marblehead.
Then there’s “Salem Cobbler,” a close-up look at the work of Rich Gagnon of Gagnon’s Shoe Repair on New Derby Street. With a drum beat in the background and a cat wandering around the shop, the camera follows Gagnon as he works his craft.
Cultrera, one of the organizers of Salem Film Fest, said he doesn’t know of any other festivals that show mini-film trailers like this.
“For me, (the festival) was a way to bring films from all over the world to Salem, and this is a great way to bring Salem to the world,” he said.
It’s also, Cultrera said, a way to “bring the festival out to the streets.”
Also featured are local dredger Craig Burnham, Gardner Mattress, musician Preacher Jack and the weekly bingo game at St. James Church.
All of the Salem Sketches will be shown together before the screenings of “Kasheer” on Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
If this tradition of short sketches catches on, Cultrera said Salem may be able to create a film library of sorts.
“If we keep doing this over 10 years, you’re going to have this little history of the city to look back on.”
The Salem Film Fest, with more than 30 documentaries, opens tonight and runs through next Thursday at CinemaSalem, the National Park Visitor Center and the Peabody Essex Museum.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.