Magical May


AFI Silver Theatre Dazzles with Eclectic Cinematic Wallop

Always reliable, the American Film Institute (AFI) Silver Theatre and Cultural Center’s especially robust programming in May makes it deserve a special feature this month. It will be nearly impossible for any self-respecting cineaste to avoid making at least one trip to the beautiful, restored art deco theater in Silver Spring, Md.

Having participated twice, including in the original edition, I can’t believe it’s already the 10th year of the ever-popular “The 48 Hour Film Project,” a worldwide phenomenon born locally. See what do-it-yourself magic happens when teams of D.C.-area indie filmmakers — who are given a genre, a prop, a character and a line of dialogue — have just two days to make an entire film from start to finish, with the results being screened at AFI from May 4 to 7. The best of the batch will then play on May 27, followed by a special “Best of 10 Years of the 48 Hour Film Project” on May 28. Shows will sell out, so get your tickets well in advance (

An official selection at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, the documentary “Soundtrack for a Revolution” (April 30-May 6) tells the story of the U.S. civil rights movement through its powerful songs of freedom, showcasing new performances by leading musicians of today such as Wyclef Jean, the Roots, Joss Stone and John Legend. Directed by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman (“Nanking”), the documentary also features interviews with civil rights leaders and foot soldiers, including Congressman John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young, Julian Bond and Harry Belafonte.

The Korean Film Festival DC 2010 (May 4-June 20) screens in conjunction with the Freer Gallery of Art, partnering with the Korean Film Council and Korea Foundation. AFI kicks off the festival with a free advance screening of Kim Ji-woon’s ode to Italian director Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns: “The Good, the Bad, the Weird” (May 4).

The work of iconic, and prolific, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa is also showcased in “Akira Kurosawa Centennial, Part I” (May 15-June 21), celebrating 100 years of one of the world’s most influential filmmakers — a man for whom fellow director Martin Scorsese has nothing but praise: “The term ‘giant’ is used too often to describe artists. But in the case of Akira Kurosawa, we have one of the rare instances where the term fits,” Scorsese said. “His films had an awe-inspiring power, physical and graphic. His indelible compositions seemed to have been burned into the screen. He defined a sense of possibility in movies.”

Meanwhile, the centennial retrospective of director Elia Kazan (1909-2003) wraps up May 24 and includes the influential — and controversial — filmmaker’s landmark depictions of post-World War II United States, notably 1954’s “On the Waterfront,” in which ex-boxer Marlon Brando famously laments, “I coulda been a contenduh.”

“Brando incarnates a new American film archetype, the sensitive man of few words,” Kazan once said of the role. “If there is a better performance by a man in the history of film in America, I don’t know what it is.”

Another enduring figure in cinema gets a nod at AFI. The 20 films in “Michael Caine: A Class Act” (May 14-July 1) span the 50-year career of the venerable actor, star of the upcoming theatrical release, “Harry Brown.” Born in south London as the son of a fishmonger, he defied naysayers in class-conscious Britain who said his Cockney accent wasn’t “posh” enough to become an international star in 1964’s “Zulu” (running May 15-16), ironically portraying an “upper-crust” army officer.

Finally, AFI presents an eclectic array of films by three notable though vastly different directors. “Larger Than Life: Orson Welles, Part II” (through May 9) reveals the American maverick’s lesser-seen foreign productions after he was effectively exiled from Hollywood. “AFI Life Achievement Award Retrospective: Mike Nichols” (May 14-July 1) honors the American filmmaker, a Berlin-born refugee who fled the Nazis at age 8 — and a rare winner of the Oscar, the Emmy, the Tony and the Grammy. And “The Films of Federico Fellini, Part II” (through May 13) dives into the Italian auteur’s more surreal works later in his career.

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About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.