The tale of the Salem witch ordeal draws thousands of visitors from around the world each year, who now can add a unique and locally produced film experience to their trip. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of Paul Van Ness ’73 of Van Ness Creative and co-owner of CinemaSalem, Gordon College History Alive! Artistic Director Kristina Wacome Stevick and Gordon College Associate Professor of English Mark Stevick. The True 1692 provides tourists and residents a concise and compelling film version of the events that helped define the city. (For details on a special screening September 29, keep reading. To watch the trailer, click here.)
“We wanted to make a film that captured this amazing story without embellishment or sensationalism, because the simple truth is already so compelling,” said Van Ness. “So working with the creators of Gordon’s History Alive’s Cry Innocent seemed like a natural fit.”
Written by Stevick and produced each year through the professional acting branch of Gordon’s Institute for Public History known as History Alive!, Cry Innocent explores the story of accused Salem witch Bridget Bishop in 1692. Stevick used actual transcripts from the period to piece together a dramatic trial where the audience becomes the jury. The show has been running in Salem since 1992, making it the longest continual theatre production on the North Shore.
While Cry Innocent focuses specially on the trial of accused witch Bridget Bishop, The True 1692 reflects the hysteria through the eyes of a young Puritan girl who witnessed it first hand. Van Ness developed the concept and script, Wacome Stevick and Stevick provided historical expertise, script editing and access to actors and locations, and CinemaSalem bartered with local businesses and historic sites to create a 35-minute 3D film.
On Thursday, September 29, The True 1692 will premiere at CinemaSalem. Viewings for invited guests will be held in the 18-seat Screening Room at 7 p.m., 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., and a 2D version of the film will also be shown at 9 p.m. in the larger cinema. The film will open for the public on Friday, September 30, and tickets are available at the CinemaSalem box office and website. The film will then be featured regularly during October and tourist seasons.
“History Alive! has been wanting to make a film about the Salem witchcraft ordeal for many years,” said Wacome Stevick. “When Paul approached us with his idea for the same, everything seemed to fall into place. With bartering that would make the Puritans proud, we were able create a 3-dimensional, 17th century experience in record time.”
First year Gordon student Amelia Haas of Roslindale, Massachusetts, won the lead role out of numerous regional auditions. Haas “immediately embodied a credible Seventeenth Century sensibility,” director Van Ness said. Other cast and crewmembers were part of the History Alive! theatre company, many of whom Wacome Stevick said came from Salem and Andover, two communities hardest hit by the witchcraft hysteria. “We were very fortunate to have built up a reservoir of talent who had worked on other projects for television and film over the last decade,” she said.
The film also reflects a growing effort to bring arts groups together in Salem. Van Ness said the bartering approach to production meant groups such as Pioneer Village, Rebecca Nurse Homestead, Cinema Salem and History Alive! and other organizations all helped in the production of the film and will receive promotional exposure as a result.
“We wanted to complement the good work that’s already happening in Salem by creating a film that tells the historically-accurate story in a concise and entertaining way,” said Van Ness. “I think we have.”
(This story also appeared on the Boston Globe website.)