Whether telling the story of a Ugandan boy soldier’s return to his homeland or a one-hit-wonder band’s struggle to win back their moment of fame, the sleek documentaries in Salem Film Fest 2009 all have one thing in common.

Whether telling the story of a Ugandan boy soldier’s return to his homeland or a one-hit-wonder band’s struggle to win back their moment of fame, the sleek documentaries in Salem Film Fest 2009 all have one thing in common.

“They’re not Michael Moore, slam-you-over-the-head style documentaries,” says Joe Cultrera, one of the festival’s organizers. “If there are issues involved, they play second to the characters in the stories. We’re interested in storytelling.”

The festival, which takes place at CinemaSalem and runs from Feb. 27 to March 5, will feature 24 documentaries that will transport audiences everywhere from Antarctica to Egypt.

Particularly touching, Cultrera says, is “Kassim the Dream,” the story of the soldier turned championship boxer who grew up in Uganda. After tasting success in the U.S. he returns home for the first time since he was a child and visits his family’s gravesite.

“It’s incredibly emotional and beautifully shot,” Cultrera says.

On a lighter note, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” follows the antics of a Canadian heavy metal band that fell out of the charts decades ago but refuses to stop playing despite ever-shrinking audiences.

“You fall in love with the characters,” Cultrera says. “You look at them and you can’t believe that these folks are for real but you are rooting for them and want them to get back where they want to be.”

After a successful first year, Salem Film Fest has expanded, collaborating with Salem State College and the Peabody Essex Museum on tying in films to college curriculum and the local art community.

During the festival there will be artwork displayed at the theater and live music performances by local bands in between films, a tribute, Cultrera says, to the days when organists played music to accompany films. Next year the festival hopes to further expand by collaborating with the Salem Jazz Festival to bring in more music.

 “We want to involve different aspects of the arts community,” Cultrera says. “We try to use the festival to bridge all these institutions, arts and culture.”

Film fest details:

Salem Film Fest’s regular film screenings begin on Friday, Feb. 27, but events start on Sunday, Feb. 22.

Tickets are now available at the CinemaSalem box office, 1 East India Square, or online at www.cinemasalem.com. Tickets for individual screenings cost $9/$7 for children, students and seniors. A three-day weekend pass costs $75/$65 for children, students and seniors. An all-access VIP pass which includes admission to all special events, parties and films costs $125/$105.

Visit www.salemfilmfest.com to learn more about the documentaries, talks with the filmmakers and parties throughout festival week.

Oscars Party at CinemaSalem:

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has scheduled their awards ceremony on the Sunday before the Salem Film Fest begins. So the festival organizing committee is throwing an Oscars viewing party on Sunday, Feb. 22 at CinemaSalem.

The event includes admission a private reception starting at 6 p.m. featuring free casual dining and beverages, and then at 8 p.m., ticket holders can enjoy all the glitz and glamour of the awards ceremony, presented on CinemaSalem’s biggest screen in high definition. Hardcore Oscar buffs can track the action with a complimentary Academy Awards scorecard.

During the event, patrons can catch special sneak previews of the Salem Film Fest lineup and hear about the long list of featured filmmakers who will be making their way to Salem next week.

Tickets cost $20 and help support the 2-year-old Salem Film Fest. In addition, the film fest’s $125 all-access VIP pass includes admission to the Oscars Party, as well as all film screenings and special events. Tickets can be purchased at the CinemaSalem box office in East India Square or at www.salemfilmfest.com/purchasepasses.html.

The theme of the evening is ‘Black and White,” which patrons can interpret any way they like: wear a tux like Hugh Jackman, a white gown like Anne Hathaway or black jeans like Angelina. Regular dumpy clothes are perfectly acceptable.

“Trouble the Water,” (www.salemfilmfest.com/troublethewater.html), an Oscar nominee for Best Documentary and a Sundance Film Festival Jury Prize winner, is part of the Salem Film Fest and will be shown Tuesday, March 3 at 6 p.m.

Check the film fest web site, www.salemfilmfest.com, for other festival parties and gatherings.