Silver Spring has new connections to TV, film worlds

Once staid suburb has also acquired a new attitude

Trips: road trips, regional events

April 15, 2004|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SILVER SPRING -- Who knew that you could jump in your car, drive 35 minutes and find yourself smack-dab in an East Coast version of Hollywood?

OK, that may be a slight overstatement. But things sure have gotten splashy and flashy down the road in Silver Spring. This polite, pleasant suburb in the shadows of Washington definitely has a hip new attitude.

"We've been referred to as Burbank East," says Montgomery County official Susan Hoffman, who handles marketing and events for the area. "There's just been this whirlwind of activity happening lately that's very exciting."

Indeed, a screenwriter couldn't have scripted Silver Spring's transformation any better.

In the past five years, this Montgomery County enclave of about a half-million people has undergone a major renaissance that has ushered in new homes, restaurants, businesses and shopping venues.

What's most interesting, perhaps, is how much of the urban-suburban overhaul is tied to an influx of Hollywood-style entertainment operations.

Last April, Discovery Communications Inc. (parent company of the Discovery Channel and home to such cable brands as TLC, the Travel Channel and Animal Planet) opened its world headquarters downtown.

That same month, the American Film Institute (AFI), which preserves the art of film, television and other forms of the moving image, made its public debut; that coincided with the unveiling of the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, a restored 1930s art deco theater complex.

Built in 1938 by noted architect John Eberson, the refurbished site is now a 49,000-square-foot cinematic delight with three theaters: one historic and two new state-of-the-art spaces with stadium-style seating. There's a cafe, a film-based retail outlet, office and meeting spaces, and reception and exhibition areas.

A plaque inside the theater reads in part: "The past has been preserved for the benefit of the future. As a cornerstone of a revitalized downtown the AFI Silver is a center of cultural and education exploration, uniting those who visit through the power of the moving image."

Besides being the anchor of public and private redevelopment efforts downtown, the theater also has good old-fashioned entertainment.

The programming focuses on film and video generally unavailable elsewhere: independent features, foreign films, documentaries and classic cinema, from Godzilla to a Natalie Wood film festival. Filmmaker interviews, panel discussions, music performances and other events are part of the fun.

"We had Clint Eastwood come for the grand opening," says AFI Theatre spokeswoman Joan Kirby. "It was wonderful. ... You don't see that type of red-carpet moment often in Silver Spring."

There are other equally glamorous events on tap. Plans are under way for the second annual SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival to be held in June, billed as a "unique celebration of the documentary form."

A collaboration between AFI and the Discovery Channel, the event is designed to raise the visibility of documentary film and documentary filmmakers from all over the world.

"We don't like to compare ourselves to anyone, but this festival is comparable to Sundance, except that it's for documentary filmmakers," says festival director Patricia Finneran.

Last year, the festival featured 22 sold-out shows in its four-day run of screenings and symposia. Some 74 films were selected from a competitive field of more than 1,000 entries submitted from 68 countries. There were also parties and other events.

"We drew every demographic -- from people from [Capitol] Hill to leaders in media, arts and culture," she said. "This year we added a day, and the event promises to be even better."

Kirby said it's all part of a revitalized Silver Spring.

"It's not about just movies, but an entire community that's changing in positive ways."

Dinner and a movie

Cubano's (1201 Fidler Lane, 301-563-4020): Vibrant colors and spicy aromas swirl throughout this cozy, chic restaurant, featuring authentic Cuban cuisine. Try the sopa de frijoles negros, a velvety-rich black-bean soup, or a sandwich Cubano, made with roast pork.

Tastee Diner (8601 Cameron St., 301-589-8171): Whether you want a quick snack or a meal with all the fixings, this comfortable diner is legendary in these parts. Best of all, it's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Mi Rancho (8701 Ramsey Ave., 301-588-4872): Family-style appeal and dozens of platos heaped with Tex-Mex dishes, from tortillas and tacos to burritos and fajitas. Wash it all down with a large selection of Mexican soft drinks, beers or pitchers of margaritas.

Mayorga Coffee Roasters (8040 Georgia Ave., 301-315-8093): Sure, there's a Starbuck's (or two) nearby, but Mayorga's roasts its own eco-friendly beans for an aroma that wafts outside. On weekends there's live entertainment and music.

Adega Wine Cellars & Cafe (8519 Fenton St., 301-608-2200): This cafe gets raves from locals. There's also a wide array of libations to enjoy on a spring afternoon.

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