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AFI sees a Silver lining

In final stages of acquiring newly renovated historic theater

WASHINGTON — The American Film Institute and local officials here are in the final stages of talks aimed at handing over to the AFI a newly renovated 400-seat historic theater in suburban D.C.

Montgomery County, Md., officials met Friday with AFI director Jean Picker Firstenberg, and both sides are optimistic that a final agreement on the historic Silver Theatre will be announced within weeks.

Under the proposed terms, Montgomery County would complete a $4 million to $5 million renovation of the art deco theater and AFI would move in to program an arthouse schedule. “We hope to deliver to AFI a fully restored art deco movie house,” Montgomery County spokesman David Weaver said.

In addition to ducking the tab on the renovation costs, AFI will not have to worry about operating deficits. “We are prepared to assist with operating costs until the theater is self-sustaining,” Weaver added.

“One of the major reasons AFI is so interested (in the Silver Theatre) is that the financial package is so very attractive,” AFI spokesman Seth Oster said.

The theater is located in Silver Spring, Md., just over the Washington line. It lies within a depressed downtown business area county officials have trying to resuscitate for several years. The theater itself has been shuttered since 1985.

In addition to the 400-seat main theater, the AFI and Montgomery County officials said the movie house will have a smaller screen with about 200 seats. The Silver Theatre, which was built in 1938, originally held more than 1,000 seats.

The AFI currently operates a 220-seat movie theater at the Kennedy Center in downtown Washington. The AFI venue has never been highly attended, in part because of its awkward location inside the Kennedy Center, where it has no marquee or even a concession stand.

If the Silver Theatre deal is approved by the Montgomery County government and the AFI board, it would give the film org a unique presence in Washington, which lost its last arthouse outlet last fall.

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