Despite some very nasty weather, the sixth annual Salem Film Fest opened yesterday, bringing 32 documentary films to town for screenings at the Peabody Essex Museum, Cinema Salem, and the Visitors Center of the National Park Service. This festival gets bigger and better every year; I can tell because (it’s all about me) I always make a list of films I want to see and each year the list gets longer and more of my choices sell out. This year, I had The Ghost Army on the top of my list, and it sold out immediately. They’ve added another show next week, but I’m sure it’s selling out as I write. This film, by award-winning documentarian Rick Beyer, tells the incredible story of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, a World War II Army unit whose job was to deceive the Germans by staging fake battlefield maneuvers, often very close to the front lines. They staged more than 200 “performances” between D-Day and V-E day, using inflatable tanks and a variety of sound effects. Can you imagine a better subject for a documentary? While its premiere was right here in Salem last night, it will be broadcast later this Spring on PBS, so look for it.
Pictures from the Ghost Army website: an inflatable tank an a smiling Bill Blass, a member of the unit. Yes, THAT Bill Blass, the future fashion designer.
Next on my list is another World War II-related film, Andrew Shea’s Portrait of Wally, about a Nazi-plundered painting, Egon Schiele’s Portrait of Wally (1912), its acquisition by Austria’s Leopold Museum and subsequent discovery in a 1997 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and the long legal struggle which followed.
The Missing Piece: The Truth about the Man who Stole the Mona Lisa considers the motivation behind Vincenzo Peruggia’s daring theft of Leonardo’s masterpiece in 1911. Apparently Peruggia’s 84-year-old daughter believes it was a patriotic action on the part of her father, a former worker at the Louvre who committed the “art theft of the century” (actually, I think the 1990 robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum takes that prize) in order to return the painting to its “homeland”. This might explain the fact that Peruggia was sentenced to a mere 15 days for his crime by an Italian court in 1914 and never served a day; no doubt a French court would have come up with a stiffer sentence.
After these three, I am a little torn: Big Easy Express, about a musical train journey from California to New Orleans, looks great, as does Radio Unnameable, about a pioneering 1960s disc jockey. Town of Runners, about a small Ethiopian town that produces more Olympic gold medalists per capita (by far) than any other place in the world, looks interesting, as does The World before Her, which takes us to a beauty boot camp for 20 aspiring Miss Indias (you can see why the festival’s tagline is “come to Salem, see the world”). There is no question that my own award for Best Title goes to Furever, a film about the remembrance of pets past.