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November 15 through 18, catch four free screenings of the filmmaker’s greatest hits. By Sophie Gilbert

Catch some of Steven Spielberg’s greatest hits for free in the next few days. Image via Featureflash/Shutterstock.

To pay tribute to its 2013 Records of Achievement honoree, Steven Spielberg, the National Archives is screening four of the blockbuster filmmaker’s biggest hits for free this weekend.

The Steven Spielberg Film Festival will host public screenings of Saving Private Ryan (Friday, November 15), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Saturday, November 16), Amistad (Saturday, November 16), and Lincoln (Monday, November 18) in the National Archives’ William G. McGowan Theater, with tickets distributed on a first-come, first-served basis an hour before showtime.

Spielberg is being honored by the National Archives Foundation for his achievements in fostering “a broader national awareness of the history and identity of the United States through the use of original records,” as well as for his efforts in creating the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, which captures first-person stories and accounts from Holocaust survivors.

Spielberg will be in Washington next Tuesday night to accept the award. For more information, visit the National Archives’ website.

Posted at 01:30 PM/ET, 11/14/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, and Morgan Freeman return for “London Has Fallen.” By Sophie Gilbert
Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart pair up again for London Has Fallen. Image via FilmDistrict.

If 2013 taught us anything about movies, it’s that if you’re going to make the same exact movie as someone else, for pete’s sake make sure yours comes out first. The epic, nauseatingly bloodthirsty battle for supremacy between Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, both of which depicted terrorists destroying Washington in ridiculous and explosive ways, ended the summer with fictional Secret Service agent/President duo Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart defeating their counterparts, Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx. Was Olympus better? God, no. But it benefited from being released four months earlier, and was cheaper to make (and therefore much more profitable).

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Posted at 12:13 PM/ET, 10/30/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Al fresco screenings are everywhere this year—here’s a comprehensive list of where to find them. By Stanley Kay
Catch free outdoor movies at the Mall and myriad other spots this summer. Photograph by Flickr user brunosan.

Seeing a movie in the summer usually means forgoing a warm evening outside for the refrigerated darkness of a theater. But not this year, thanks to the ever-growing array of outdoor film festivals and movie screenings in the Washington area. Throughout the summer, catch outdoor movies everywhere from your local town square or park to the Mall and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.


DC

Screen on the Green
When: July 22 and 29, and August 5 and 12
Where: The Mall between Seventh and 12th sts., NW
Theme: See titles online, including E.T. and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Follow @SOTGinDC for updates.

NoMa Summer Screen 2013
When: Wednesdays, July 3 through August 21
Where: Loree Grand Field, Second and L sts., NE
Theme: “Outlaw heroes,” including titles such as The Hunger Games and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Follow @NoMaBID for updates.

Family Film Night at Sursum Corda
When: July 9 and 23, and August 6
Where: Sursum Corda at L and First sts., NW
Theme: “Family-friendly movies,” including Despicable Me and Toy Story 3.

Canal Park Thursday Movies
When: Thursdays, July 11 through August 29
Where: Canal Park at M and Second sts., SE
Theme: “DC Versus Marvel Comics,” including flicks such as The Dark Knight and The Avengers. Follow @CanalParkDC for updates.

The DC Drive-In
When: July 12, 19, and 26, and August 2
Where: Union Market at 1309 5th St., NE
Theme: “Movies about Washington,” including Dr. Strangelove and The American President. A car isn’t required. Follow @UnionMarketDC for updates.

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Posted at 02:45 PM/ET, 07/02/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
A moving and skillful homage to one of America’s most memorable leaders. By William O'Sullivan
Still of Letters to Jackie via AFI Docs.

When my father died, it was the first time I’d ever gotten a condolence note. Many times, I’d wondered if I really needed to write to a particular friend or acquaintance after a loved one’s death—maybe I didn’t know the bereaved well or simply couldn’t think of what to say. Too often I did nothing. Having now been on the receiving end, I’ve learned this: When in doubt, send a card (or an e-mail). It’s one of the cheapest and most meaningful gifts a person can give.

Letters to Jackie, the opening-night film of AFI Docs, demonstrates this phenomenon and its corollary during a time of shared grief: the ability of a condolence to offer healing to the writer.

The documentary, directed by Bill Couturié, uses letters written to Jacqueline Kennedy after her husband’s death—the White House received 45,000 alone by the Monday after his Friday assassination—as a vehicle to look back at JFK’s presidency. With the help of voiceovers (by Jessica Chastain, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Betty White, and others), rare film footage and home movies, and creative manipulation of handwriting and typescript, the film draws us into the broken hearts of individuals—not a nation but individuals—offering solace to a woman they felt they knew.

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Posted at 01:00 PM/ET, 06/21/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
A.J. Schnack and David Wilson look at the music tourism mainstay of Branson, Missouri. By William O'Sullivan

What comes to mind when you think of Branson, Missouri? Grand Ole Opry lite? Bible-belt kitsch? Osmonds? If those are the sum of your thoughts, add “ill-informed preconception.” And the antidote to that is We Always Lie to Strangers.

The quietly absorbing documentary by A.J. Schnack and David Wilson focuses on four music productions in Branson—where, it’s noted, the population is 10,520, the number of annual visitors 7.5 million, the yearly revenue from tourism $2.9 billion, and the number of theater seats 64,507 (more than Broadway).

The Presleys’ Country Jubilee—one of the town’s original shows, dating to 1967—stars patriarch Lloyd Presley and his extended family, including a son married to Branson’s Republican mayor. The Magnificent Variety Show (boasting “300 costume changes”) is the project of a young couple, Tamra and Joe Tinoco, and produced in the Osmonds’ theater. Showstoppers! is an extravaganza on a boat. And the Lennon Brothers are part of a clan that also spawned the easy-listening Lennon Sisters, a quartet discovered by Lawrence Welk in the 1950s and a TV fixture for decades.

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Posted at 01:50 PM/ET, 06/18/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Filmmaker Grace Lee delves into the extraordinary life of her namesake, a 97-year-old activist and philosopher. By Alison Kitchens
Still of American Revolutionary courtesy of AFI Docs.

At 97, Grace Lee Boggs doesn’t look much like a social activist or someone with an extensive FBI file, but she’s exactly that. Filmmaker Grace Lee’s (no relation, although she came across Boggs while researching a film about women with the same name as her) American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs chronicles Boggs’s life from her childhood as a Chinese immigrant in Rhode Island through her adult life as a Marxist theoretician, black power activist, and philosopher. Boggs’s wit and charisma carry the film—it’s hard not to be charmed by her willingness to do what she believes is right and the matter-of-fact way she recalls accomplishments from the past. “You don’t choose the times you live in,” she says. “But you do choose who you ought to be, and you do choose how you ought to think.”

During her time in college at Barnard, Boggs came across Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s teachings, and, thus, a philosopher was born. After more schooling, Boggs moved to Chicago, where she came in contact with the civil rights movement for the first time. “I was aware that people were suffering but it was more a statistical thing, and here in Chicago I came in contact with it as a human thing,” she said.

After taking part in the 1941 March on Washington, Boggs eventually moved to Detroit to be closer to the African-American working population—beginning her love affair with the city. There, she met her future husband, James Boggs. Through clips from television appearances and speaking engagements, we get a clear picture of the couple as public speakers, passionately discussing the civil rights movement. In interviews, Boggs recalls her viewpoints of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X’s teachings with clarity (she preferred the latter’s point of view).

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Posted at 09:30 AM/ET, 06/18/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Activist Matthew VanDyke provides a close-up look at the Arab Spring’s hardest-hit community in this searing short. By Diana Elbasha
Still from Not Anymore courtesy of AFI Docs.

A young Syrian girl holds her country’s flag with widestretched arms and sings cheerfully into a camera. Behind her on the sandy Aleppo street, a demonstration takes place—freedom fighters, parents, Free Syrian Army generals and children exist as one here, marching to express a single plea: Get rid of Bashar al-Assad.

Then an explosion occurs. The camera drops. The demonstrators’ voices turn into panicked screams; the girl’s singing stops.

The 15-minute short, Not Anymore, filmed by activist Matthew VanDyke offers a heartbreaking glimpse into daily life in today’s Syria—a country that prior to having a shattered infrastructure, outpouring of refugees, and massive casualties in the height of civil war was a close-knit Middle Eastern destination decorated with historic architecture. “It is beautiful,” says Nour Kelze, a 24-year-old teacher-turned-freedom fighter and a producer of the film, “without that monster.”

The film follows Nour, a fearless and passionate Syrian rebel, as she braces the front lines of a conflict that has taken her job, her friends, and her country’s picturesque landscape. She’s now a war photographer. “Everyone is going to know what’s happening to us,” she says, wearing a hard hat and sneakers in place of her former “fancy dresses and high heels.”

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Posted at 02:30 PM/ET, 06/17/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Filmmaker Matt Wolf defies convention to explore the relatively recent concept of the teenager. By Michael Gaynor
Still from Teenage courtesy of AFI Docs.

Teenage is a different kind of documentary. It’s not an “issue” picture, trying to explain, investigate, or solve some big controversy. There are no talking heads and no narration by the filmmakers. It isn’t the story of a single person or event. So what exactly is it?

On its surface the film tells the story of the “teenager,” examining the role young people have played in culture, politics, and historical affairs since the advent of the term. Based on the Jon Savage book of the same name, it begins at the turn of the 20th century with the first child labor laws in the US, which freed young people to discover themselves. And so, adolescence was born.

From that launching point, the documentary weaves the tales of four representative teenagers from the first half of the century: the hard-partying Brit who became a cautionary tale, a Hitler Youth member manipulated by a dictator, a rebellious German captivated by overseas music and culture, and a black Boy Scout trying to find his place. They were some of the first true teenagers, and their stories of facing teenage problems are depicted through archival footage and diary readings.

But, the most important facet to the documentary is the mood it creates. Its soundtrack, by Bradford Cox of the indie band Deerhunter, is ethereal and spacey. Informative subtitles don’t pop-up onscreen to explain where a certain piece of footage is from or even who is speaking—the images simply come and go for viewers to make sense of themselves. It all serves to give the film an ambient, dreamlike quality.

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Posted at 12:10 PM/ET, 06/17/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Marc Wiese crafts an astonishing film around a man who survived a North Korean labor camp. By Michael Gaynor

One of the greatest strengths of the documentary format is its ability to personalize an issue, to tackle an abstract concept with characters and stories instead of figures and statistics. To many, the forced labor camps of North Korea are one of these issues—we know they exist, we know horrible things happen there, but we’re so far removed from them that their everyday relevance is diminished.

Camp 14—Total Control Zone seeks to change that. It tells the hidden story of one of these prisons, where barbed-wire fences contain lives that know only hard labor, hunger, and complete domination. The political prisoners here receive no pardons, and their sentences never end. The only way out is death, which can come at any time of any day, sometimes simply via the whim of a guard with an itchy trigger finger.

The film centers around a young man named Shin Dong-hyuk. Born in the prison camp, he grew up knowing nothing of the outside world. The idea of “freedom” was inconceivable—his life was built around starvation and fear, orders and beatings. That is, until he escaped at the age of 23 to China and eventually Seoul, South Korea.

Shin’s story unfolds slowly, as the initial mysteries of how he came to be born in the camp, what happened to his family, and his ultimate escape are revealed piece by piece. Flashbacks to his youth are portrayed through haunting animations—they’re sparse, static, and colorless but for the splash of the blood-red flags fluttering on the execution grounds.

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Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 06/17/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The world premiere of a film about international students in New York City offers a new side to the immigration debate. By Douglas Bair
Still of I Learn America via AFI Docs.

You could be forgiven for thinking the Macarena isn’t exactly the cornerstone of cultural assimilation, but for teens at New York City’s International High School at Lafayette, the dance is indicative of the essence of American culture.

In I Learn America, filmmakers Gitte Peng and Jean-Michel Dissard follow a group of adolescent immigrants through high school, as they grapple with everything from civics homework to soccer practice to self-discovery. But the film’s main focus is how the students experience their introduction to a new society’s norms. In interview after interview, they recount personal anecdotes and struggles to the point where the movie starts to resemble an episode of MTV’s True Life.

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Posted at 09:35 AM/ET, 06/17/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()