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In September, 2005, the Patriot Cinema closed and Salem found itself — for the first time in a century — with no movie theater within its city limits. 

Nine months later, on June 2, 2006, co-owners Bill Collins and Paul Van Ness, encouraged by strong community support, launched CinemaSalem in the Museum Place Mall with a free screening of The Wizard of Oz. Since that night, more than 800,000 people have visited the movie house, an all-documentary Salem Film Fest — launched at CinemaSalem —has grown into a major international festival, and the theater has been honored with seven consecutive “Best North Shore Movie Theater” awards.

Now CinemaSalem will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary with a customer appreciation event on Thursday, June 2, with another free screening of The Wizard of Oz (Passes can be picked up at the box office and it is 4 passes max per person.) as well as free concert featuring a collection of emerging regional artists performing film-oriented tunes. The screening of the film classic will begin at 8:15 and the free concert will kick off at 8:30. 

“It’s appropriate that we observe this 10th Anniversary with a community celebration since the public’s support has been a constant throughout our history,” notes Paul Van Ness. “Even before we opened, hundreds of people responded to our online survey asking what they were looking for in a downtown movie theater. A lot of our initiatives over the years originated from those ideas and from new suggestions our customers have made each year.”

“It was a customer who suggested we show the Presidential Inauguration in 2008. We expected 75 people but more than 400 showed up, and it was a pretty clear indication of the unique role a movie theater can play in community life,” noted Bill Collins.

Perhaps the most dramatic instance of community support came in 2012 when the theater was faced with closure due to the Hollywood studio’s requirement that all theaters make the expensive conversion from film to digital projection. The theater launched a 40-day Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to raise $60,000 to fund the conversion, and the campaign reach its goal in just 12 days. The theater converted to digital in early 2013.

“Without the community’s continuing support, we literally wouldn’t be here,” said Van Ness, “so it felt like a free event for everyone was the appropriate way to celebrate this anniversary.”

A concert will be part of the celebration because CinemaSalem is continuing to redefine itself this year by launching a series of live events on Thursday nights. “We had 10-15 live events every year since we opened,” said Van Ness, “and people always loved the ambience and acoustics. So this year, we’ve booked a variety of national acts on Thursday nights, from music to comedy to theater and dance. Two of our first three shows have sold out, so we’re off to a great start.” 

The anniversary concert will feature “Nick Consone and Friends”, each performing their favorite original tune, plus songs from movies.

When asked about the future of CinemaSalem, Van Ness is excited. “We’re bringing in more movies than we’ve ever shown before, including some great art films. I’m also excited about our live events, especially our premieres and original programming,” continued Van Ness. “This month we’re hosting the first-ever presentation of an immersive experience of drum and dance called Foli: Rhythm of African Live”, which will be our most visually-spectacular show yet. In July, we’re proud to host an interactive theater show based on the educational computer game, The Oregon Trail, called “You Have Died of Dysentery!” Working together with the team behind the locally based organization Creative Salem we have forged a wonderful partnership with an organization whose sole mission is to support the local creative economy and we find that they have many tools at their disposal to really help us continue to establish ourselves as a cinema/theatre/performance space that is FOR this community and all the while working with and providing opportunity to local artists and creatives. 

In the next few months, CinemaSalem will also be hosting concerts by national artists Jonathan Edwards, Melissa Ferrick, and Carlene Carter.

“Like any startup, it’s been challenging at times,” said Van Ness, “but it’s always been very gratifying work, mostly because CinemaSalem feels like the community’s theater, and it seems to contribute something important to people’s quality of life. It’s wonderful to be a part of that.”

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