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 285 comments)

JodarMovieFan on November 20, 2014 at 12:03 am

I caught ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in 70mm tonight. The website denoted a Montgomery College gathering and I had mistakenly thought it was for students only. Surprisingly, the attendance was large for a weeknight showing, then again there were many students in attendance for a class discussion that followed after the movie.

With traffic, I knew I was going to run late and printed my ticket but still waited in the concession line to get in. I’m thinking to myself, whats the point in home ticket printing if you still have to wait to be let in. I understand its advantageous to buy concession stand fare, but its still a time waster. I missed maybe 1 minute as the movie started at the point of the ‘Thus Spake Zathrusta’ or whatever its called beginning music. It appears the curtain was used and there were probably no previews showed.

On the Concession stand front, I tried the Hummus with Pita bread for $5. While they microwaved the 5 little and I mean little pitas, its not worth $5. Maybe $2. The Capuccino was great for $3.50 and should sufficiently caffeinate someone for a movie that runs as long as 2001. :)

This time around, I just wanted to enjoy the movie and hoped the print was decent enough. On the in70mm site, there was a report about a new 4K print, yeah, this was 70mm..fine. This film print definitely was not new, or recent, there was some fading particularly the scene where the graphics to the stasis pods of the Discovery’s scientists in hybernation. Bowman’s close ups of his BIG BLUE eyes weren’t colorly vibrant, but thats ok. He looks less scary. :) Towards the middle of the end, after intermission, there were noticeable artifacts, line down the middle, blocks/patches..expected for aging film prints but not detractable from the enjoyment.

Some detractions other than the film were hearing the projector clackety clack from the booth up above when there was no music from the movie was playing (which was a good portion of it). I had thought there was sound proofing but evidently not. Also, a radio or CD playing could be heard, which I thought was an adjacent auditorium, but remembered this was no where near 2 and 3. Must have been the booth. Then there was a guy who added his own touch to the soundtrack with his buzz saw snoring. Thankfully, the intermission gave a break to it, but I believe he nodded off again afterwards but caught himself before the first snore. :)

Even with the amount of times of seeing this movie (or any favorite), sometimes you find something new that you didn’t from the prior viewings. During the Dawn of Man sequence, there seems to be a matte painting of a body of water..perhaps lake that was just beyond the ape encampment. I hoped they would reuse the same set up for a future scene to double check, but didn’t notice it again, which means I’ll need to watch the sequence the movie again to be sure.

A new question that popped in my head was why is it Dr. Floyd is the ONLY passenger not just on the Pan Am space flight to the station, but to the American moon base, too. Can you imagine an airline running a flight with just ONE passenger on it? I’d think they’d just cancel it. Not sure what Kubrick was thinking, of course, but he could have had a few more extras in those scenes other than the flight crew. Its no wonder Pan Am is out of business..can’t make money on single passenger space flights… :)

Sitting on the the other side of the theater, I did experience some surrounds not memorable from previous showings. HAL’s voice, for one. To be sure, I compared it to the voices of Bowman and Poole and sure enough, there voices were in front. I believe there needed to be more bass especially during the Stargate Corridor sequence based on my prior theatrical and home viewings. Not sure if they can be adjusted anyway.

When the movie ended, I was curious to see if anyone was going to clap and thought I would be first, but an older couple behind me beat me to it and the audience towards the theater’s rear followed. After the closing credits, a gentleman stood up and announced a discussion for his students and audience members who wanted to stay behind. I wish I had had time to stay just to see what Millenials, the close minded ones, would have to say about this film. I bet at least one would say that the 3 hour movie was 2 hours and 50 minutes too long. :)

Steve, if and when you read this, can you comment on whether the #1 or any of AFI’s auditoriums or modern venues in general, have some kind of equalizer or similar electronic device to tweak the sound? On the Ziegfeld page, with the current discussion on ‘Interstellar’s IMAX soundtrack, Vito was mentioning that on 70mm films he ran, they could improve on sound levels using some kind of equalizer.

Giles on November 20, 2014 at 9:43 am

oh, I was right next door last night at the ‘Pulp: A Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets" during '2001’

interestingly I saw ‘National Gallery’ before hand and I thought it was interesting for a documentary the curtains were used.

for a THX auditorium (screen 1) – I had forgotten how utterly quiet it is, during the end credits which had no music —– you could literally hear a pin drop.

JodarMovieFan on November 20, 2014 at 11:56 am

Haha. Giles! I knew 2001 had a very short run and I read about ‘Pulp..’ but 2001 won out for me since last night was its last night and ‘Pulp..’ is showing in #3. For as long as AFI Silver has been open, I’ve never seen a movie in that auditorium. I’m sure its okay, but it is the smallest of the 3. :P

If the venue has curtains, why not use them? Its part of the showmanship that cinemas are losing nowadays. Look at our local AMCs and cough Regals. But hey, we are getting comfy oversized leather, or faux leather, recliners! Ho-hum. Theaters should do everything they can from excellent customer service to venue amenities to keep people coming back.

I haven’t checked out the new Arclight, but hope to very soon. I think AFI and Landmark will get some competition from them and if their concession fare is better then AFI’s, which from the website, it seems to be, its going to be tough.

I’m not sure when you arrived, but did you hear/see the little commotion about the patron who got kicked out? I’m not sure if the AFI employee was the manager, he was casually dressed, or security. From what the patron was saying, he was caught switching theaters, but the employee just said ‘you know what you did.’ Not sure how it all ended since I was already late.

From my last two blogs, security there is lax. I walked in (with my print at home ticket) and there was no one there to check in..I just went in straight to #1 and saw the movie. Then there was the homeless guy with his cart of belongings, maybe he did have a ticket..shouldn’t be judgmental..I know. :)

Giles on November 20, 2014 at 6:22 pm

actually ‘Pulp’ was on screen 2.

I’ve seen quite a few movies on screen 3 and personally I like the smallness of it – it’s comes across as more as a private screening.

how come I miss all the scuffles ? I was more than likely still at Potbelly having dinner.

[side comment: I was over at the Arclight today trying attempt number two to see ‘Big Hero 6’, well they ARE still trying to calibrate the two Dolby Atmos audio systems – as a result screens 6 and 7 aren’t playing anything (yet), even though I had bought a ticket yesterday to see the film at 12:05pm today – had a quick look see into screen 6 – whoah – it’s really large – I can NOT WAIT to see a movie here!

Landmark Bethesda is going to get serious competition since the Arclight is advertising it’s auditoriums as ‘black box’ – low level (no?) lighting (think Cinema Arts – the only light in the auditorium is from the screen – it’s pitch black) – I hate (hate… HATE!) the new ambient wall lighting at Bethesda since it remains on during the movie and ruins any and all dark scenes – it’s as if they know that seniors frequent Bethesda and don’t want them tripping up or down the stairs when the movie is playing]

sguttag on November 20, 2014 at 9:18 pm

The orbital space station was not completed, hence it does not have its normal level of commercial traffic. Furthermore, with the “outbreak” and quarantine, nobody would be cleared to travel there from the US.

The soundtrack for this week’s showing was from the “5.1” mix which seemed to be nothing more than a 5.1 “safe” downmix of the orignial 6-channel for non 6-track theatres (or older players without the “Special Venue” version of the 6D). Normally, the AFI/Silver gets the 6-channel discs…not this time however. Since there was no subwoofer channel in the original mix, you are not likely to have any. Now there was an “8-channel” mix done for this movie (I’ve seen the discs but have never personally heard them)…I suppose if they really did a remix, then it may be possible for there to have been a subwoofer added.

Hal should talk out of ALL channels…he is to be omni-present. That is part of his eeriness.

The print was relatively low-milage and all of the leaders/tails were in-tact (never been plattered). However, as I understand it, the printing left a bit to be desired as it looked to have the pre-aged look to it, unfortunately. The original prints were done by Metrocolor and they looked fantastic! I’ve noted that some of the dupes of 70mm over the years, including Lawrence of Arabia appear to be less than stellar…with often some fogging noticeable around the edges of the frame. I did not see this particular print and am going strictly by description of the projectionist that checked it in.

As for equalization…all cinemas have equalizers on their sound systems. These are what are used to achieve a uniform sound…however they are not hand-tuned by ear to each particular movie or person’s “taste.” They are not “tweaked.” With the vast diversity of product run at a place like the AFI, it would be a hopelessly lost cause and what you may like someone else may dislike. The goal is to always present the movie as close as possible to the manner it was intended to be shown.

The AFI does have special DSP processors strictly for Mono 16 and 35mm films but the person that wanted them ended up being dismissed before ever using them. The thought behind them was that mono was more of the wild-west and with a completely lack of uniformity…particularly on 16mm. Again, it would come down to what one person “thinks” sounds best for everyone…it is a potentially losing battle.

Giles on November 20, 2014 at 10:19 pm

“The soundtrack for this week’s showing was from the “5.1” mix which seemed to be nothing more than a 5.1 “safe” downmix of the orignial 6-channel for non 6-track theatres (or older players without the “Special Venue” version of the 6D). Normally, the AFI/Silver gets the 6-channel discs…not this time however.”


well that makes me feel slightly better that I missed it this go around – how frickin' annoying.

JodarMovieFan on November 20, 2014 at 11:25 pm

Thanks Steve for your info..informative as always.

When you say the projectionist checks the print in, is this done all the time? With sound levels, I gather the studio, perhaps the director (himself or herself) will have instructions to play the film a certain way with sound levels at a particular setting, etc. With today’s DP, how do you ‘check’ that in if its all on the hard drive? Does the theater do a trial run of the print, film or digital, before it actually is publically screened? And there is a back up for digital, and an extra film print (for film shows) just in case? And lastly, can’t the venue request the BEST print available, or does it just settle for whatever the studio wants to give out. I would think with the venue being AFI, they can and should get the absolute best print ALWAYS since you’ve got a projectionist to take extra care in film handling especially with 70mm and those other rare prints.

Re: 2001 sound. I forgot to mention the alarm system on the Discovery that went off was also not as ear drum splitting, along with the slightly faded graphics. Was the sound on digital disc or magnetic stripes? :)

My favorite showing of 2001 is still the advertised ‘virgin’ print back in ‘90 or so at the Uptown. If I scanned the ad from the Post, i’m wondering if the site would post it…

HowardBHaas on November 20, 2014 at 11:32 pm

JodarMovieFan, though not exactly originally the intent when photos were re allowed, yes, nobody will give you a problem if you post at the Uptown page a scan of the Post’s ad for 2001 back in ‘90. Many posts of newspaper ads have been made. I won’t be attending the 70mm West Side Story but hope it is well attended.

Giles on November 21, 2014 at 10:45 am

I’m currently having a beef with the AFI Silver – apparently they are too good to be showing the latest Jean-Luc Godard’s experimental 3D Film, ‘Goodbye to Language’ – got a message from them saying they will not be showing this, whereas the Wexner Center for the Arts can pencil in two showings, but for the AFI to show a one off screening or something – no can do … guess AFI doesn’t find Godard revelant any more (and yet this also won a prize at Cannes this year). I should just stay in Iowa City, after Thanksgiving and see it there at their Film Scene theater – unbelievable.

JodarMovieFan on December 8, 2014 at 11:43 pm

Thats awful to hear, Giles. Maybe the bookings were too heavy at AFI with their current schedule that they couldn’t get it. Or, the Wexner had exclusive rights to be the only venue in this market to show it? I forget the term now..but it was talked about in the Balto Senator’s forum a lot.

I did catch the Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture Thanksgiving week. There was a word document on the door indicating this version was not the theatrical version but is the first time this version has been shown theatrically.

An older man was at Concessions, no greeting, no thank you, no..‘your movie is showing in ..nothing. Its funny..I was running a little late, as usual, with the traffic and assumed it was in #1. They had the name of some other movie there and assumed it was in #2..ran there and nope, omg, not #3..ran there, nope. Went back to #1 and opened the door and yes, this was the one..they just started the overture with open curtains. I thought, maybe mistakenly so, that the curtains are closed during overtures. Being after the 4:30pm starting time and me finding my seat, I felt they were waiting just for me to arrive to start the movie :)

As the movie began, sure enough, the dulled picture was most likely the regular DVD that has been out for 13 years or so. Sound levels were okay, I did hear stereo in the front. Music was everywhere during the end credits. Despite the presentation quality, it was nice to see the TOS crew on the big screen. Despite its shortcomings, which are well documented, one has to appreciate the old style moviemaking such as key lighting on the bridge close ups of some of the stars, attention to detail such as the makeup, costumes and production design.

All in all, I enjoyed this presentation far better than the Richard Donner cut of Superman II they showed here in Blu Ray a few years back. Supe II was just awful and subdued as if to have a mono soundtrack.

If they ever make a proper theatrical print of the Director’s Edition of Star Trek, Paramount better do something about the current neutered soundtrack and polishing the VFX to theatrical standards of visual quality. Its okay to play at home. I’d think Gene Roddenberry would’ve objected to at least one change and that was the elimination of the ship’s male computer voice and klaxon ship alarms since it was his idea to have them in the first place. In the original release, they had you jump in your seat from the blaring alarms and the male computer voice was kind of futuristic cool, if a bit cold. It got your attention, which is the idea.

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