AFI Silver Theatre

8633 Colesville Road,
Silver Spring, MD 20910

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AFI Silver Theatre

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Operated by the American Film Institute, the AFI Silver Theatre is a film house and education and cultural center. Arthouse films, classics, and film festivals are presented in the historic theatre that opened in 1938 and in the two auditoriums that opened in 2003. The AFI Silver is near the Silver Spring stop of Metro’s Red line. Silver Spring is a suburb of Washington, D.C.

The Silver Theatre opened September 15, 1938, with 1,100 seats and “Four Daughters” starring John Garfield and Claude Rains. The Silver was built by a local movie theatre operator W.S. Wilcox, but quickly turned over to Warner Bros. The theatre was designed by fame theatre architect John Eberson, one of his later classics. The historic building has a nautical theme including its mast like vertical sign and imitation portholes. When seen from above, the building mimics the lines of a ship. Eberson designed it to give moviegoers the feeling they are entering a cruise ship. The movie screen was designed to appear as if it were floating in front of the auditorium.

In 1984, objecting to the preservation of the theatre, its owners demolished some of the facade including the vertical neon town and tile mosaics. As demolition crews punched holes in the brick facade in August 1984, frantic Silver Spring residents rushed to the theatre to plead that demolition be halted. A ‘stop work’ order from Montgomery County saved the theatre from demolition at that time. The infamous, deliberate vandalism of the theatre by its owners became a rallying call to those who cherished it. K-B Theatres closed the Silver Theatre in 1985. Boarded up, its fate was uncertain. The Silver Theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Richard Striner, a founder and former president of the Art Deco Society of Washington led a 19 year campaign to save the theatre. In 1998, Montgomery County began negotiations with the American Film Institute to reopen the theatre. The AFI were previously based at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center since 1975. Renovations by Washington DC based architectural firm Gensler & Associates began at the Silver Theatre in 2001. The five year construction project cost twenty million dollars and was totally funded by Montgomery County. County executive Douglas M. Duncan led the charge to fund the theatre’s rehabilitation. The AFI Silver is the flagship (pun intended) of a one million public & private rejuvenation of the downtown Silver Spring.

The historic Silver Theatre was ‘rehabilitated’ rather than replicated, because it isn’t an exact replica as it was. The original blueprints were discovered, and reviewed, along with vintage photographs. When built, the theatre had 60 colors in the interior. The reincarnation has 40 colors including the blues, yellows, reds and deep browns typical of 1930’s Art Moderne. Peacocks and shells can be seen on the wall decor. A new larger screen was placed in front of the original smaller screen. The original carpet was replicated.

The rehabilitation project features 32,000 square feet of new construction housing two new stadium theatres, a film-based retail kiosk, office and meeting space, as well as reception and exhibit areas.

The AFI Silver reopened April 4, 2003 with a gala including a screening of the restored classic “The Oxbow Incident” and actor/director Clint Eastwood receiving the AFI Silver Legacy Award. With photographs of its facade and auditoriums, the AFI Silver Theatre is depicted in the 2004 book ‘Cinema Treasures, A New Look at Classic Movie Theaters’.

As of 2007, historic Auditorium 1 has 400 seats in its raked auditorium, an electric organ to accompany silent films, projection equipment that includes 70mm projectors, and a very large movie screen that is 41 feet wide and 18 feet tall. Auditorium 2 has 200 seats, stadium seated, and a very large movie screen that is 37' x 19'. Auditorium 3 has 75 seats, stadium seating, and a 27' x 14' screen. All auditoriums have digital surround sound, are THX certified, and have curtains to open and close before the movie.

Concessions that can be enjoyed in the cafe or auditoriums include beer and wine, in addition to food and other drinks.

Contributed by Ray Barry, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 258 comments)

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on July 12, 2014 at 7:21 pm

I should have written that Ryans Daughter and Cheyenne Autumn were shown in English but with Swedish subtitles. Googling, I don’t see any other prints reveal themselves as being shown anywhere so I’m going to guess the AFI Silver simply didn’t bother to list it that way?

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on July 13, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Howard, looking at in70mm’s website, NY and Chicago had/have 70mm festivals with titles that AFI can’t seem to get at all. One would think with AFI’s hook into the film community, they’d be able to get them. On the other hand, the local AFI has had some interesting premiers and directors for film discussions recently.

The site seems to be getting better, the email notifications are workinf for me, for the first time in years.

On the other hand, I believe they’ve been pruning site comments as I have seen mine disappear. This majorly sucks. Now, some of my memories of certain films are gone forever.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on August 22, 2014 at 5:07 am

I had intended on going this past Sunday to see silent 35mm The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and 70 mm The Agony and the Ecstasy. I had read that prints shown in prior years elsewhere in the world of the 70mm print were excellent. Did anybody see it this past weekend? How was the print?

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on September 4, 2014 at 5:47 am

I wrote up this year’s 70mm film series here. There’s links & names of the prior festivals’s movies, too http://www.in70mm.com/news/2014/afi_festival/index.htm

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on September 4, 2014 at 7:33 am

Great article, Howard. ^5.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been to the movies this year as often as I would have liked, the AFI’s 70mm festival included. I’ve just been too busy with work and other things. Your review of the 70mm Ryans Daughter notwithstanding and with my previous lackluster experience of 70mm at the Silver, I wasn’t too enthused to make the trip to see anything here.

My enjoyment experiencing 70mm lies, in large part, to the sound. If the sound isn’t engulfing when its supposed to, the immersive experience is not attained. I’m not tech enough to explain the differences. I remember a Ziegfeld theater posting about ‘West Side Story’ in 70mm and the opening whistling sequence heard around the theater. When they showed it here, just about all the sounds seemed to come up front. Thats just an example of those sounds that make a film come ‘alive.’

Giles
Giles on September 5, 2014 at 8:11 pm

oh that was you Howard? I was the one that took that second picture of you in front of the doors…

from what I remember of ‘The Sound of Music’ last year was that it was supposed to debut the new DCP system in the main auditorium, but when the system had been delayed, the AFI had to do a change over to a 35mm print.

Giles
Giles on September 5, 2014 at 8:20 pm

this weblink actually denotes the change from the planned DCP to a 35mm ‘Sound of Music’ screening:

http://afi.com/silver/films/2013/p62/70mmspectacularpart2.aspx

while I agree that the pink-red tinged print of the ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ was disappointing, I thought the directional sound was the highlight, except when there was some odd ‘thumping’ in the surround channels (which I assume indicated that the audio tracks on the prints were slightly damaged in some way)

but overall I was very very impressed by ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ (both films I had not scene before)– notably the photography during the love making scene in the forest – it felt like maybe Terrence Malick was inspired by said scene.

Giles
Giles on September 5, 2014 at 8:33 pm

in regards to “Oklahoma!” – which I wasn’t able to see, it doesn’t make sense that the restorers spent so much time on the image, but couldn’t encode the sound with the five front channel setup, when DCI compliant processors actually can encode/extract the left/center, right/center channels of sound.

The bluray is actually mixed to 7.1 sound (left, center, right, side-left surround, left center rear, right center rear, side right surround). Technically the AFI Silver which can playback 7.1 films on all it’s three sceens, this could have been a possibility, but ultimately that would have furthered the sound experience from the original theatrical mix (that SHOULD have been on the DCP). Interestingly the bluray is video encoded at 1080i to recreate the 30 frame per second Todd-AO ‘look’.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on September 6, 2014 at 4:44 am

Yes, we’ve now met. Thanks again for taking the photo. Had seen a 70mm print of The Sound of Music in 1991 at the Uptown. My article at top right links to my article last year about 70mm festival at Seattle Cinerama. Saw magnificient newer, restored looking 70mm print of The Sound of Music there.

sguttag
sguttag on September 7, 2014 at 12:12 pm

I can’t speak to the Ziegfeld’s set up…but I can to the AFI/Silver’s (and MOST of the 70mm venues in the DC area during 70mm’s heyday. At some point, I probably tuned most of them…notably, the K-B Cinema, The Uptown and even Embassy and Avalon. the AFI/Silver’s sound system(s) are spot-on on levels, including surrounds.

In fact, few venues outside of a studio get the kind of attention the AFI gets. They have to run most every type of movie ever made in whatever format it was made.

Setting levels is not something done on popularity of having hot surrounds but by precise measurement to recreate, as accurately as possible, the environment that the movie was mixed. This is NOT something that a home release enjoys where the mix is deliberately altered from the theatrical mix to cater to wants of the home and the typically different listening environment.

Unfortunately, the subject of surround levels is further muddied by the fact that before digital audio, SOME cinema sound processors (Dolby CP55 and CP65, in particular), would raise the optical surround level by 3dB…allegedly to overcome the effects of the 2:4 decoder. This is a practice that was not used in prior processors (CP50, CP100, CP200) or latter processors (CP500, CP650).

Cinema surrounds has yet another complication that home video does not have to contend with…a legacy of a monaural surround. The surround level when all speakers are playing should have the SAME SPL level as any one of the stage speakers given the same input level. However, when cinema went to a stereo surround, it was essential that the same soundtrack play at equal level in a mono or stereo surround theatre. To accomplish this, the stereo surrounds are lowered by 3dB each such that when they acoustically sum, they once again play at the SAME level as either a mono surround system or any one of the stage speakers. When Surround EX came out in 1999…we AGAIN had to ensure that regardless of the theatre capability, the same track would play at the same level and Surround-EX decoders had to ensure that either stereo surround or EX movies would play properly at the same level. At the AFI you can go through any mode, mono surround, stereo surround, Surround-EX, Surround 7.1…given the same source level, the same SPL will be in the theatre and precisely balanced to the stage channels. Furthermore, when non-Cinema content is played (Broadcast or even consumer formats like BluRay), there are gain stages in the sound systems to ensure that they too will playback at the correct level since they didn’t ever have to content with the legacy of backwards compatibility with a mono surround system.

Now add into all of that exhibitors know that people like to hear the surrounds and would goose the levels (“If I paid for them, I want to hear them!”). It doesn’t make it right but it make make some happy. Whereas I often have to set up a theatre for a studio screening, the levels have to be exactly right.

The DCP of “Oklahoma!” was a 4K 30fps version. It was within a Scope container. The image was good, the colors were very good. It was a FAR cry from a 70mm image though. It was more akin to a good 35mm image.

-Steve

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