The AFI -- which was established by Congress to advance the art of the moving image -- worked with officials in Montgomery County, near Washington, D.C., to develop the facility as a main feature of a $400 million public-private revitalization of downtown Silver Spring. The redevelopment will also include the new headquarters of Discovery Communications, the parent company of Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and other cable channels.
AFI Director and CEO Jean Picker Firstenberg said the Eastwood tribute -- which kicks off a weeklong series of events -- will feature a 40th anniversary screening of the Henry Fonda-Dana Andrews classic, "The Ox-Bow Incident." Eastwood is scheduled to attend the event, and sit for an onstage interview with film journalist Richard Schickel.
The event will also feature a tribute to driving forces behind the project, including Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. Firstenberg told United Press International that Duncan got AFI involved in the project in 1997.
"It was just one of those miracle projects that happen once in a lifetime," she said. "They'd been trying for many years to put together a project that would rebuild downtown Silver Spring. They needed an anchor for the redevelopment. When they looked at the old Silver Theatre, which was a magnificent art-deco grand palace, they realized it might serve as an anchor if an organization like AFI could come in and run it and program it and make it a centerpiece of the entire redevelopment project."
The AFI Silver will offer film and video generally not available elsewhere -- including independent features, shorts, foreign films, documentaries and classic cinema. The 49,000-square-foot center will also feature two stadium-style movie theaters, a café, a film-based retail outlet, office and meeting spaces, and reception and exhibition areas.
Firstenberg said the AFI will also use the center as part of its ongoing partnership with Montgomery County public schools to provide film education programs for students.
"We have been working with the education system," she said, "and as soon as we open ... we'll be able to bring the education community right into the AFI Center."
The AFI has been operating a program in Montgomery County schools called "A Novel Look at Film," which gives students the opportunity to compare novels with the movies upon which they are based. Firstenberg mentioned, as an example, John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," and the 1992 movie adaptation starring Gary Sinise and written by Horton Foote.
"We interviewed Gary Sinise and Horton Foote," she said. "We brought the students into (a theater) and showed them the movie on the big screen. Then we showed them the interviews in their classroom so they could see what it takes to read a novel and adapt it for the screen. It's really an eye-opening experience for the students."
Montgomery County high schools offer a program this year in which students can adapt a scene from a novel and produce it themselves with handheld cameras.
"They storyboard it, cast it and produce it," said Firstenberg.
Even students who do not go into filmmaking benefit from the work, said Firstenberg, because it makes them smarter consumers of media.
"It's going to make them better citizens," she said. "They're going to be more literate and more acutely aware of media and its power. It's also going to help students who have trouble reading to read a little better, and it's going to help students who are not engaged to engage better in education materials."
The AFI Silver will open its doors to the public on April 11 with screenings of the 1970 French gangster film "Le Cercle Rouge," Robert Mugge's blues documentary "The Last of the Mississippi Jukes" and a cycle of films from 1938, the year the Silver Theatre opened.