The 10th annual AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival is set for June 18-24 in and around downtown Silver Spring, Maryland at the AFI Silver Theater, one of the last surviving art deco theaters in the country and a top art house cinema in the region. Silverdocs hosts more than 27,000 attendees from around the world and is considered a premiere showcase for documentary films.
It almost didn’t happen this way. I moved to Silver Spring, Maryland in 1994 and the downtown area was an unsafe place. The Silver Theater was boarded shut, its art deco doors taken off and the surrounding buildings were decaying after the final retail anchor store moved out of town. The City Council and County Executive met with Triple Five developers who sold them the idea of the American Dream Mall in downtown Silver Spring. They touted themed rooms, a wave pool and huge retail center. They flew the city council to see their big malls spanning acres upon acres and busloads arriving everyday with shoppers. Those were the days.
However, the infrastructure would not be able to bear the pressure of what they were predicting. The people living in the area did not want another mall, more cars and buses because it was nearly impossible to travel the same roads into Washington, D.C. as it was at the time. The people said no. The City Council and County Executive wisely listened and looked for an alternative. A deal was made with Discovery Communications to build their world headquarters in downtown Silver Spring across the street from the Silver Theater. The American Film Institute (AFI) bought and renovated the theater into its former magnificence, even finding the art deco doors at an antique shop. The idea was to create a film festival and bring the arts to downtown Silver Spring. It worked.
The first Silverdocs Documentary Film Festival was introduced in June, 2003 and this year is held for eight days at the AFI Silver Theater and Discover Communications World Headquarters showcasing the best in documentary films. In addition, Silverdocs offers a concurrent International Documentary Conference, the largest professional conference of its kind in the United States with over 1,200 industry professionals participating in workshops, seminars and networking events.
Over 27,000 filmmakers and film festival lovers go to the Documentary Festival that presents over 100 film submissions from all over the world. Participating organizations include BBC, CPB, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, The Ford Foundation, HBO, Latino Public Broadcasting, Miramax, National Geographic, PBS, Sundance Institute, National Black Programming Consortium. It is highly praised by Variety and The Hollywood Reporter as the “preeminent U.S. documentary festival.