From AFI’s current schedule, ‘Mr. Rogers’ may be the sentimental favorite

Fred Rogers with “Neighborhood” friend King Friday from the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” about his long-running PBS children’s television show. COURTESY PHOTOFred Rogers with “Neighborhood” friend King Friday from the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” about his long-running PBS children’s television show. COURTESY PHOTO  AFI Silver features multiple offerings, but Todd Hitchcock, Director of Programming, expects that one film will resonate the most emotionally currently.

That would be “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” that reviewers are describing as an affectionate but incisive look at Fred Rogers. From 1968 to 2001, he hosted “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” one of the longest-running and fondly-remembered children’s television shows.

The documentary by Morgan Neville, an Academy Award winner (for another film), focuses on how the cardigan-clad Rogers, a trained minister, was both radical and gentle.

“People got snifffly even during the trailer,” said Hitchcock, who grew up watching the program as well as “Sesame Street.”


AFI retrospective revives interest in the works of Michael Curtiz

Paul Henreid, Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart star in “Casablanca,” one of the films in the “Directed by Michael Curtiz” retrospective at the AFI Silver. COURTESY PHOTOPaul Henreid, Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart star in “Casablanca,” one of the films in the “Directed by Michael Curtiz” retrospective at the AFI Silver. COURTESY PHOTO  You must remember this.

Any classic-movie fan recalls the opening words of the theme song of “Casablanca” – and probably everything else about it. Even those who’s never seen the 1943 film about emigres struggling to get visas to America against the backdrop of Nazism and a doomed romance probably have of heard of the song (“As Time Goes By”) and most likely the film.

But members of both categories may not know the film’s director – Michael Curtiz. They can find out more in the retrospective featuring some of his works, entitled “Directed by Michael Curtiz,” on view at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center through March 25.

In addition to “Casablanca,” the films of the prolific Hungarian-born director include “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Mildred Pierce,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Sea Wolf,” and “Angels with Dirty Faces.”


‘Disaster Artist’ makes the most out of the pursuit of the American Dream

Disaster ArtistMidway through “The Disaster Artist,” aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is seen performing in a stage production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” He plays Biff Loman, and we see his final confrontation with his father, Willy. “What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself when all I want is out there waiting for me the moment I say I know who I am?”

The brief scene encapsulates several of the key themes of “The Disaster Artist,” the recently released film adaptation of Sestero’s non-fiction memoir about his experiences in the production of the cult film “The Room.” Like Miller’s play, the film is an examination of the costs of the pursuit of the American Dream, of the difference between one’s place in the world and one’s perception of same, though certainly more lighthearted and comic in tone.


“Borg vs. McEnroe” part of EU Film Showcase at AFI Cultural Center

BORG MCENROE copyThe Swedish film "Borg vs. McEnroe," starring Shia LaBeouf and Sverrir Gudnason as tennis rivals John McEnroe and Björn Borg, kicks off the annual European Union Film Showcase now playing through Dec. 20 at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. COURTESY PHOTO  Todd Hitchcock and Abbie Algar get to watch movies as part of their jobs.

In preparation for the annual European Union Film Showcase, to take place next month at the American Film Institute Theatre and Cultural Center, Hitchcock, the AFI director of programming, and Algar, the AFI associate director of programming, attend such prestigious film festivals as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, and Toronto.

“Each of us sees some 40 to 50 films on each of these trips,” said Hitchcock. “There are screenings all day and into the night.”

That's because the showcase is a curated event, “not an open-submission process,” Hitchcock explained.

At this time of year, the theater will present many classic holiday films, including such perennial favorites as “It's a Wonderful Life,” “The Shop around the Corner,” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

However, the European Union showcase, now in its 30th year, will also take place from Dec. 1 to Dec. 20.


A topical story, but not deeply “Felt”

Liam Neeson as Mark FeltLiam Neeson stars as FBI confidential source “Deep Throat” of Watergate scandal fame in the new biopic “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.”                    COURTESY PHOTO BY SONY PICTURES CLASSICSIn May of 2005, W. Mark Felt Sr. (1913-2008), the former assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed himself as Deep Throat, the confidential source who provided crucial assistance to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during their landmark investigation of the Watergate break-in scandal.

Until now, the most iconic image of Deep Throat came from the 1976 thriller “All the President’s Men.” Hal Holbrook played the mysterious informant who lurked in the shadows of a Virginia parking garage to secretly meet with Bob Woodward, played by Robert Redford, and advised the reporter to “Follow the money.” (That classic line actually came from the mind of screenwriter William Goldman, and not a quote Woodward actually attributed to his source.) 

Since Felt’s revelation, numerous Hollywood figures have discussed the possibility of making a film focused on his life and career. At one point, Tom Hanks had been in talks to produce and star as Felt. 


Emmy-nominated filmmaker to present her film at Docs In The City

American Promise poster 1WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Silver Spring-based nonprofit organization Docs In Progress will present the second installment of its Docs In This City this weekend. Docs In Progress is the brainchild of its executive director, Erica Ginsberg, a graduate of Albert Einstein High School who became interested in documentary production while taking classes at Montgomery County Public Schools' Visual Arts Center. Docs In Progress supports aspiring filmmakers by connecting them with established documentary producers and providing venues for public screenings.

In July, Docs In Progress presented the first installment of Docs In The City, an NEA-funded series which pairs aspiring and established documentary filmmakers whose works share a common theme.

For this installment, filmmaker Michèle Stephenson will present her acclaimed documentary “American Promise,” which she co-directed with her husband Joe Brewster. The film, which follows two middle-class African-American youths from Brooklyn over 13 years at the prestigious Dalton private school, won the Special Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Festival and was featured on the PBS series “POV.”