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See It in DC: A Great Place for Documentary Filmmaking and Viewing

By aviva kempner

The AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland, home base of the AFI/Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival

By Aviva Kempner and Charlotte Hendrix

Being a documentary filmmaker in the Washington, DC area has numerous advantages. Choosing which premiering or historical documentary to watch is a nightly embarrassment of riches. We have competing opportunities to view documentaries at such varied sites as the Library of Congress, various Smithsonian venues and the Charles Guggenheim Center for the Documentary at the National Archives, to name just a few. Oftentimes there are interfacing encounters with the filmmakers and an opportunity to meet with them one-on-one. The Center for Social Media at American University has built a solid reputation on showcasing the latest socially minded films. Museums like the National Women's History Museum, the National Gallery, the Museum of the American Indian and the Hirschhorn Museum all have excellent film programs that often feature nonfiction movies. The community-restored Avalon Theatre also offers fresh-off-the-editing-machine documentaries.

These opportunities multiply when the various festivals are unspooling in the nation's capital. The recently launched Silverdocs, a successful festival from the get-go, at the AFI Theatre and literally down the street from its co-sponsor Discovery Communications in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a summer delight. Documentaries with Jewish themes are featured in the annual Washington Jewish Film Festival at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, which often features monthly showings of documentaries in its screening room. The DC Environmental Film Festival programs an abundance of great documentaries.

Women in Film and Video is a large and active organization open for membership to both sexes. The organization affords opportunities for valuable seminars, job markets and film programs. If you want to show your work in progress, there is the Docs in Progress program, which now uses Busboys and Poets restaurant. This has become a popular venue for also showcasing political films or interesting discussions at the Peace Caf in the Langston Room. The DC Film Salon hosts monthly meetings for filmmakers, where they can discuss current projects, screen works-in-progress and network with other like-minded filmmakers of all levels.

Those of us living in the District of Columbia proper might not have yet voting rights in Congress (although we are fighting to change that inequality), but we do thrive in a rich atmosphere of seeing, showcasing and developing documentaries.

Through our storytelling and vibrant documentary community, we are able to challenge the important issues and have our say.

So next time you come to Washington, DC for a meeting, filming or researching, make sure you leave plenty of time to also soak in the total documentary atmosphere. It can be a 24-7 experience in the nation's capital.



(Courtesy of the DC Shorts Film Festivals)

Adams Morgan Film Festival

All Roads Film Project

Amnesty International Film Festival

Annapolis Film Festival
Annapolis, MD

Asian Pacific American Film Festival

Blue Ridge-Southwest Virginia Film Festival
Roanoke, VA

Common Ground Film Festival

The Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital

DC Independent Film Festival

DC Labor Film Festival

DC Shorts Film Festival

DC Underground Film Festival

Filmfest DC

48 Hour Film Project

Georgetown Film Festival

Guerilla Film Festival

James River Film Festival

Korean Film Festival

Latin American Film Festival

Maryland Film Festival
Baltimore, MD

Baltimore, MD

Reel Affirmations Film Festival

RealScreen Summit

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Film Festival
Sterling, VA

Rosebud Film Festival
Arlington, VA

Silverdocs AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival
Silver Spring, MD

Six Minute Cinema
Burke, VA

Takoma Park Film Festival
Takoma Park, MD

Veneration Film Festival
Newport News, VA

Vinegar Hill Film Festival
Charlottesville, VA

Virginia Film Festival
Charlottesville, VA

Washington Jewish Film Festival


AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Centre
8633 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD

Avalon Theatre
5612 Connecticut Avenue NW

Busboys and Poets
2021 14th Street NW

Center for Social Media
School of Communication
American University
Wechsler Theater at Mary Graydon Center
4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW

District of Columbia Jewish Community Center
1529 16th Street NW

Freer and Sackler Galleries
Meyer Auditorium
1050 Independence Avenue SW

Hirschhorn Museum
Ring Auditorium
Independence Avenue at Seventh Street SW

Library of Congress
Mary Pickford Theater
101 Independence Avenue SE

National Air and Space Museum
Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Sixth and Independence Avenue, SW

National Archives
Charles Guggenheim Center for the Documentary Film
William G. McGowan Theater
Constitution Avenue between Seventh and Ninth Streets

National Gallery of Art
East Building Auditorium
Fourth Street at Constitution Avenue NW

National Museum of the American Indian
National Mall
Fourth Street and Independence Avenue, SW

National Women's History Museum

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Kenneth E. Behring Center
Fourth Street and Independence Avenue, SW

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Johnson IMAX Theater5
Baird Auditorium
Fourth Street and Independence Avenue, SW

Editor's note: Unless otherwise noted, all of the above festivals and screening venues are located in Washington, DC.


Aviva Kempner. director and producer of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, is presently working on a film on Gertrude Berg, the creator of The Goldbergs on radio and television. She founded the Washington Jewish Film Festival.

Charlotte Hendrix is an associate producer, and she received a master's degree in producing for film and video from American University in May 2006.