AFI Silver Theatre

8633 Colesville Road,
Silver Spring, MD 20910

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sguttag on September 7, 2014 at 2:12 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.


HowardBHaas on September 6, 2014 at 6:44 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.

Giles on September 5, 2014 at 10:33 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’.

Giles on September 5, 2014 at 10:20 pm

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

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 on September 5, 2014 at 10:11 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.

JodarMovieFan on September 4, 2014 at 9:33 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.’

HowardBHaas on September 4, 2014 at 7:47 am

I wrote up this year’s 70mm film series here. There’s links & names of the prior festivals’s movies, too

HowardBHaas on August 22, 2014 at 7:07 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?

JodarMovieFan on July 13, 2014 at 10:27 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 on July 12, 2014 at 9:21 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?

HowardBHaas on July 12, 2014 at 6:21 pm

3rd annual 70mm festival now online. Hamlet. The Agony and the Ecstasy. Ryan’s Daughter. Cheyenne Autumn. Last year, Lincoln Center showed 70mm Ryan’s Daughter & Cheyenne Autumn in Swedish with subtitles, but no word of that format here. Oklahoma in DCP. Around the World in 80 Days, shown in Bradford England in a pink version. Anyone know if there’s a good version of Around the World Days in 80 Days?

JodarMovieFan on June 29, 2014 at 11:04 pm

AFI’s 80’s film retrospective line up looks good. They’ve got “Batman”, “Star Trek IV”, “Willow” and “Temple of Doom”, but not one in 70mm. I remember seeing/experiencing all of those in 70mm. The surround track during Doom’s Thuggee sacrifice sequence..the time warp surround in Trek IV..the siamese dragon fire coming at, through and behind you from Willow and James Horner’s playful, heroic score. Batman, I don’t remember anything grand, except for the loudness of the Batmobile in motion and the Prince track.

They’ve got “Lawrence of Arabia” in 70mm, once again. One would think they’d book 2001 again, too, but maybe the 4K version coming later may be worth waiting for.

If they can get them.. ‘The Untouchables’ in 70mm would be great, “Gandhi” is epic with its real crowd scenes of thousands. ‘Top Gun’ would be great, too, but they’ve got it in digital. Hopefully, the transfer is good and they play it up loud. The beginning sequence with the jets taking off, Giorgio Moroder’s score transitioning to Kenny Loggins' ‘Danger Zone’ was sooooo awesome.

thebrat on May 17, 2014 at 9:55 pm

I initially came here today for ‘City Lights’, but due to unpredictable traffic I missed the show. So I decided to stay in Silver Spring for a while to exchange my ticket and got one for ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, which I had already seen. It was a DCP showing in #3. There seemed to be some slight keystoning from left to right rather than bottom to top, the scope moments of the film really showed off the odd effect. This being a THX cinema, I thought that was a peculiar oversight.

On a side note, the THX trailer ‘Cavalcade’ preceded the film. I was disappointed by the Deep Note in this. I thought the rain effects, thunder and crashing were much more “wow” for me. But then the DLP trailer that preceded the previews had a much more assertive and immersing mix.

A thought: what if AFI Silver installed Dolby Atmos in the historic theater? Considering the echo chamber issues the auditorium is having recently, it will be completely hilarious but sad.

JodarMovieFan on February 3, 2014 at 10:02 am

The calendar shows they are booking 1984’s ‘Starman’ in 70mm in March. Of many of that year’s films, this wasn’t really a favorite. I saw it in 35mm at the now closed College Park theater and fell asleep during it. My sleeping during part of the movie had more to do with the fact I worked the night before and my friend kept begging me to drive him to catch a matinee. I remember the reviews of the movie being similar to ET but for grown ups. Let’s hope the presentation yields something more memorable than the other 70mm films shown here of late.

Giles on October 29, 2013 at 10:55 pm

saw the 1953 ‘3D’ movie “Inferno” tonight on the new 3D system in auditorium #1 – and it looked fantastic. The Dolby 3D system’s glasses fit perfectly over my own glasses, unlike the REAL-D glasses that don’t. The 3D was very impressive and there was enough light to convey the dimensionality – whoever created the DCP made it look like the movie was shot last week. On the downside the audio was very strident and even sitting close to the screen, some of it bordered on intelligable, for a THX screen – the audio is all over the place; movie to movie.

JodarMovieFan on September 29, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Having glanced at the October calendar, it appears they have booked a 70mm print of ‘Ghostbusters.’ As often as I have complained about proper surrounds..I remember seeing this at the Uptown in ‘84 when it opened and there is a really cool..scary scene when the Ghostbusters come upon a 'librarian’ who does not ‘know’ she is dead and tries to shush our heroes into silence. They cut to the jabbering heroes and in the next cut we see the librarian turn from an old marm to a skeletal ghost. The accompanying sound effect is part subwoofer and growl for like 2 seconds that is surround..and out our heroes go scrambling away in fright!

I’m going to make plans to see the movie and if they play the sound all up front like they have and this scene is ruined, I’m going to complain.

thebrat on September 2, 2013 at 6:56 am

What better way to examine the Silver’s new DCP system than a screening of the 4K restoration of Lawrence of Arabia? I caught yesterday afternoon’s screening in screen #1. First of all the picture was rock steady. Steadier than the 70mm presentations of 2001 and The Master. The DCP is identical to the Blu-ray in that it used the same amazing master, but the DCP gained that resolution to create a grid-less picture. There certainly was less resolution than 70mm, but the digital restoration was just too marvelous.

A few complaints. The new DCP system is sketchy at the moment. There is slight keystoning towards the upper part of the image. The masking was first set to 2.35, but the picture was pillarboxed to 2.20 so the unused junk on the left and right sides was illuminated. Finally 90 minutes in, the side masking set to 2.20, and although if you look closely you can still see some of the black junk but it was reduced. Thank heavens. The douser was also open during the overture and entr'acte which contain a black screen while the douser should be closed during those moments. At least the curtains were used.

The sound was on the reverberating, wet side. Dialogue had an echo and was almost unintelligible. Thanks to the Art Deco stylized room that is screen #1, the modern screens 2 and 3 are acoustically superior to the technically superior screen 1.

Once the DCP system is at full speed, then the Silver will be totally versatile and even more amazing.

Cumulo on August 29, 2013 at 7:16 am

My brother and I watched “Closed Circuit” yesterday afternoon in #3. Although advertised on the website as a DCP (and the trailers were digital), we were pleasantly surprised when the feature itself turned out to be a 35mm print.

HowardBHaas on August 19, 2013 at 6:33 am

Anybody see this weekend DCP version of “Cleopatra” 1963 in aud 2? A few months ago, I saw it, was glorious. 4 hour version as after a week or two in NYC & LA, in 1963, it got chopped down by 40 minutes or more. To me, it looked beautiful, a hugely impressive film to look at & enjoy. No surround sound in the version projected that I saw.

Giles on August 13, 2013 at 10:54 am

what a surprise yesterday afternoon to see ‘The Last Unicorn’ not only in DCP (on screen 2) but to get to meet author/screenwriter Peter S. Beagle in person. The presentation while advertised as a 35mm print turned out to be an actual DCP – the Park Circus logo was the immediate indication the literal second it displayed on screen. The colors looked fantastic, slight cel imperfections were retained and not scrubbed, DNR’d to death in typical Disney Home Video fashion (i.e, the current ‘The Sword and the Stone’ bluray is a primer on how the DNR transfer can destroy the original film look and create a flawed ‘video’ presentation). The 5.1 mix was equally impressive, notably in it’s wide dynamic range. It also came in great play when ever Schmendrick used his magical power, sound would swirl into the surrounds.

PeterApruzzese on August 10, 2013 at 10:11 pm

It should be 2.20. If I had to guess, the DCP was probably created with the 2.20 image windowboxed within a 2.39 frame to keep the same height, but not as much width, as a 2.39 show.

HowardBHaas on August 10, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Enjoyed today a beautiful print (4k DCP) of restored Hello Dolly! at AFI Silver in auditorium 2 since aud 1 not yet DCP equipped. Curtain opened, slides shown, then movie began. Halfway thru intermission slide, music, I went to buy popcorn, returned in 2 minutes, and movie had begun already! That was not the right period of time for an intermission! After movie ended, curtain closed, and more music (as appropriate). The sound seemed to be behind screen, but was excellent. I asked beforehand, and was told it would be a 2.39 aspect ratio, which it seemed to approximate. Blu Ray online says 2.35. Since other 70mm films (Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra) were put into 2.20 ratio (same as 70mm) for DCP and Blu Ray & these films would’ve been shot with 2.20 lens (right?) why would Fox have cropped Hello Dolly! at top & bottom to place it on a 2.4 aspect ratio for DCP & Blu Ray? Regardless, it was a very enjoyable screening. The movie looked gorgeous on the big screen & sounded great. I had never seen it in a movie theater before today.

HowardBHaas on August 8, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I figured Hyde Park probably wouldn’t have exciting surround, but Anna Karenina sound was so exciting from behind the screen that I just knew I was missing out on a wonderful surround sound experience that I am sure was in the 35mm print but somehow messed up by projectionist.

Giles on August 8, 2013 at 2:18 pm

well in terms of the mixes of Hyde Park this is what’s review says about the mix:

“Hyde Park on Hudson features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is fairly modest in its sonic ambitions and therefore doesn’t offer much “wow” factor in terms of tremendous immersion or surround activity. Dialogue is almost uniformly anchored in the front channels, leaving the surrounds to capture some well done ambient environmental effects and the charming minimalist score. There are occasional moments of sonic activity, notably when Roosevelt marauds through the countryside in his specially equipped roadster, and, late in the film, when the King and Queen attend a picnic that has Native American performers as well as a gaggle of guests. Those moments are really nicely alive and utilize the surrounds quite smartly. Fidelity is excellent though dynamic range is relatively limited.”

and ‘Anna Karenina’

“Anna Karenina’s stirring DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track throws open the theater doors and embraces every nuance of the film’s sound design, from its windswept fields to its spacious ballrooms, crowded train stations, hushed drawing rooms and beyond. Rear speaker activity is all at once subtle and engaging, using directional magic and cross-channel seamlessness to great effect. The resulting soundfield is satisfying and expansive, drawing the listener onto Wright’s very literal stage and giving them the freedom to stroll from scene to scene. LFE output, meanwhile, grants gravitas and presence as needed, lending its weight to chugging trains, thundering horses and other low-end elements. All the while, dialogue is clear, intelligible and perfectly prioritized, dynamics are rewarding and Dario Marianelli’s Oscar-nominated score surges and relents with poise and power. All told, Anna Karenina sounds as magnificent as it looks, and arguably even better.”


it’d be strange that the 35mm prints of these films would be inferior and have less sound elements. I noticed that the 35mm prints of ‘Les Miserables’ had really subdued surround sound, but the 7.1 mixed DCP was dramatically different and better.

HowardBHaas on August 8, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Steve, that’s puzzling as ALL the sound in those 2 movies was from behind the screen. No speakers were outputting any sound from anywhere else. I assure you that I would’ve noticed surround.