AFI Theater Trims Repertory Programs

By Arnold, Gary | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 15, 1998 | Go to article overview

AFI Theater Trims Repertory Programs


Arnold, Gary, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Before me are three communications from the American Film Institute: two recent press releases and an appeal to renew my annual membership.

The benefits of membership include discounts on tickets to the AFI Theater at the Kennedy Center. Unfortunately, the press releases diminish that potential advantage, at least for the immediate future: AFI Director Jean Firstenberg, based in Los Angeles, announced last week that programming at the AFI Theater would undergo a "major refocusing," which proved a euphemism for an acute downsizing.

The cutbacks will eliminate traditional repertory programming - the first casualty is a salute to "Titanic's" Gloria Stuart - and reduce theater operations to a part-time basis.

The theater remains dark until a special showing next Sunday of "Madame Butterfly," augmented by a personal appearance from cast member Richard Troxell. Showings of Roberto Rossellini's vintage documentary "India" and the Hungarian feature "Every Sunday" were retained on March 28 and 29. They also involve personal appearances.

The AFI Theater salvages a couple of programs in April: a 10-day rebooking of the French film "Capitaine Conan," originally on the March calendar, and the return of Filmfest DC for a week beginning April 25. At the moment, May is limited to a two-week engagement of the Iranian film "The Taste of Cherries," beginning May 15. Like Filmfest DC, the annual Americas and European Union festivals remain perennials. Beyond that, who knows?

"A sad day," Mrs. Firstenberg concluded. The AFI's bad news served as a pretext for scolding a stingy Congress. "It is simply no longer viable for the AFI," Mrs. Firstenberg declared, "to continue bearing the annual costs of running the theater on a daily basis under the current climate of lost congressional support for the arts."

Since this climate has prevailed for several years, AFI fans should pin their hopes on successful negotiations with Montgomery County to reopen the Silver Theater as an AFI showcase. According to AFI Communications Director Seth Oster, also in Los Angeles, the deal remains active and fervently desired by the AFI management. Mr. Oster acknowledged that Washington-area residents make up a substantial percentage of AFI "national" members. …

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