84AFI Silver Theatre, Silver Springs, Md.
- Jan 16, 2004Jan. 14, 2004
Facility helps usher visitors into
The American Film Institute's Silver Theatre and Cultural Center is
living up to its promise to reel visitors into downtown Silver Spring.
The Silver Theatre has been the "catalytic agent for a lot of other
change occurring here," said Peter Esker, chairman of the Silver
Spring Citizens Advisory Board, at a Monday night meeting held at the
theater, which he called the "stellar achievement of redevelopment of
The Silver Theatre, a 1938 art deco movie house designed by John
Eberson, closed in 1985 but underwent a $20 million rehabilitation as
part of Silver Spring's downtown redevelopment. Once a 1,100-seat
movie house, the building now features one historic theater and two
stadium-style theaters, as well as a café, office, meeting, reception
and exhibition space. It is owned by Montgomery County and operated
by the American Film Institute.
In the nine months since the theater reopened, about 100,000 guests
have entered the building to see a variety of films, said Ray Barry,
deputy director of the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. "We've
achieved much of what we wanted to."
Financially, he said, the theater is "hitting targets," based on
conservative goals set for the theater's first year. And although the
guest number is "about exactly what we expected, we'd like more. We'd
definitely like more," he said.
Since the theater opened, 6,000 people have also become members,
which was "wildly beyond any expectations," Barry said.
Based on anecdotal evidence, Barry said he believes the theater has a
regional draw, but plans to do a ZIP code survey this year to confirm
The theater staff had several goals it wanted to achieve, including
excellence in programming, educational initiatives and being a part
of the Silver Spring community, Barry said, adding that, so far,
those goals have been met.
The programs the theater has shown have been diverse, ranging from
classics to foreign films and current releases like "Lord of the
Rings," he said.
"We also launched Silverdocs, an international film festival, in
partnership with Discovery [Communications]," Barry said.
Silverdocs showed a variety of documentary films, including works by
local filmmakers, and drew about 25,000 people for its community day
that featured a skateboarding demo on Georgia Avenue by professional
skateboarder Tony Hawk, as well as other skaters from his Boom Boom
Silverdocs was so successful that AFI and Discovery plan to hold
another major film festival like it this June in hopes of drawing
more visitors from out of the area and possibly achieving an
international status, Barry said.
The theater also has had other modes of community outreach, including
several open houses when the facility opened. And a Latino film
program and a mid-Atlantic regional film showcase has spotlighted
local filmmakers, as well as other smaller festivals, Barry said.
"A friend of mine had a film festival here. It went off marvelously,"
said Korey Hartwich, a member of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory
The theater has also begun a number of educational initiatives, Barry
said. AFI has been working with Montgomery College's Takoma Park
campus to offer part of the college's introductory film course at the
theater, and has also launched an educational program that currently
targets ninth- and 10th-grade students, though it eventually may be
offered to the kindergarten through 12th-grade.
Within this program, youths can come to the theater and experience
the cinema firsthand, and teachers can get assistance in selecting
films for their classes, Barry said. The education program was
launched in November 2003.
The theater also has brought in several guest filmmakers--both
celebrities and undiscovered artists--to speak in front of an
audience about their works, Barry said, citing Clint Eastwood and Eli
Wallach as two of the more prominent filmmakers to visit Silver
"We're looking forward to redevelopment in the rest of the
community," Barry said.
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