AFI Silver

The subject of this edition of Off the Beaten Turf, while not unknown, is just outside the District lines and may not always be on the minds of residents of DC proper. But UrbanTurf thinks that AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center is a Silver Spring gem very worth a visit.

AFI Silver, located in downtown Silver Spring at 8633 Colesville Road (map), is one of only two American Film Institute theaters in the country; the other is Los Angeles.

Walking in is a cinema buff’s dream: a dramatic lobby with lush carpeting, old movie posters and a cafe — which serves alcohol — leads to three screening halls that feel miles away from the modern, plastic, black interiors of a Regal Cinema or an AMC. Because AFI Silver is located in the former Silver Theater, which was built in 1938, the vibe is mid-century and ornate. A curtain pulls back from the screen, the chairs have wooden backings, and the ceiling and walls are decorated with curvy designs.

AFI Silver

The retro atmosphere of the theater is echoed in the movie selection. While the theater always has a few showings of particularly acclaimed current releases, they also play older, classic movies that fall within some theme. This season’s series include Jack Nicholson: A Retrospective and Raj Kapoor and the Golden Age of India Cinema. They also occasionally group movies by decade, like the 80’s, or by a genre such as Film Noir.

Right now, however, the theater is overrun with documentaries for the much anticipated Silverdocs festival. In its tenth year, the festival screens about a hundred documentaries over the course of a week; it closes up this Sunday.

AFI Silver is arguably the most discerning movie theater in the region. In this age of Netflix and instant streaming, watching a classic film in a dramatic theater is a rare treat.