|Paul Van Ness|
By Dave Hicks
Gordon College News Service
Oct. 3, 2013
This story appeared Oct. 4, 2013, in the Salem Your Town site of the Boston Globe.)
SALEM, MA—When Terry Peters, 55, of Ohio saw the Halloween decorations in downtown Salem, he had only a vague idea of how the holiday came to be. “I know it has something to do with Old Hollows’ Eve,” he said. “I think trick-or-treating started a little later?”
But Peters appears to know more than most. When asked about the history of Halloween, some Salem residents admit they don’t know. Even employees at a downtown magic shop laughed at the question, shrugged their shoulders, and dispersed.
“Salem could be considered the Halloween capital of the world,” said film director and co-owner of CinemaSalem Paul Van Ness, 66. “Tens of thousands of tourists will come here to celebrate it. But if you ask most people where these traditions come from, you’ll find that they really have no idea.”
Van Ness hopes that his new film, The History of Halloween, will change that. Shot entirely in the Salem area, the 35-minute film publically premiered at CinemaSalem on Friday, October 4, and will run throughout the month at the independent theater at One East India Square.
Local experts on the history of Halloween are impressed with the film’s historical veracity. “It’s very accurate,” said Erik Rodenhiser, owner of Gallows Hill Museum/Theater. “It gives you real information and makes you leave saying ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know that.’”
Still, Van Ness says he did push the truth at times but only to make room for comedy. For instance, in true thespian tradition, Rodenhiser, 46, plays a Celtic woman in the film. “I am (obviously) not really a Celtic woman!” he said. And in a scene that shows Martin Luther hanging his infamous 95 Theses to a church door, one of the theses states, “God is a Boston Red Sox fan.” According to Van Ness, “that’s not true either.”
Apart from these examples, though, Van Ness said the film is consistent with his overall goal to tell the truth about Salem’s history. For the past three Octobers, he has premiered original documentary films at CinemaSalem. In 2011, his film, “The True 1692” explored the history of the Salem Witch Trials. In 2012, “The Spirit of Salem” introduced the famous figures who made Salem what it is today.
“As an independent movie theater, we have a special interest in playing movies with intense local focus,” said Van Ness. “We want to play films that are unique to this area. There is a huge audience for those sort of things.”
It takes a lot of work to make these films. Although most of the shooting began this past May, some of The History of Halloween’s footage dates back one year. But what perhaps takes the most time was preparing the film to be played in 3D.
“3D films take about nine times more work than their 2D equivalent,” said Van Ness. But he believes the effort is worth it.
“It’s easy to go to the movies and encounter historical information with a detached smugness,” he said. “3D is more immersive. You feel like you’re really there.”
Show times for The History of Halloween at CinemaSalem, One East India Square, Salem, Massachusett, are as follows: Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 5-6, it will be screened at 11:00am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm (3:05pm on Sunday), 5:00pm, 7:00pm. On Monday Oct. 7, only 7:00pm. And from Tuesday to Thursday, Oct. 8-10, it will run at 3:00pm, 5:00pm, and 7:00pm.