SALEM — In just six years, Salem Film Fest has grown from a fledgling venture inside a small downtown theater to an event that is drawing wider attention within the film world.
The award-winning PBS series “Frontline” is premiering part of a new documentary here on Sunday before it airs on national television.
David Fanning, the executive producer of “Frontline” and a Marblehead resident, came to the festival last year, went out afterward with some of the organizers and filmmakers, and agreed to take part this year.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that one of the festival founders, filmmaker Joe Cultrera of Salem, made a documentary of his brother’s abuse by a Catholic priest that was shown by “Frontline” several years ago.
Not only is the first part of “Kind Hearted Woman,” the story of an Oglala Sioux woman’s struggle, being shown at the Peabody Essex Museum, but it will be followed by a forum with producers of the PBS show.
Drawing even more attention than “Frontline’s” entry is a documentary by and about a Salem resident.
“West of Memphis,” which airs Friday night, is the story of Damien Echols’ struggle to escape death row after being convicted with two others of the grisly 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark.
The film was co-produced by Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis, who worked tirelessly to free him from prison.
They made the documentary in conjunction with Peter Jackson of “Lord of the Rings” fame, an Echols supporter.
Both Echols, who was freed in a 2011 plea deal, and Davis will be at the screening and answering questions afterward.
They moved to Salem last year.
The film and Echols’ story are not without controversy. A man who identified himself as the father of one of the victims posted a blog on the Salem Film Fest website saying the organizers of the event “should be ashamed of themselves for supporting a convicted child murderer.”