Grand Movie Palaces versus Big Bad Multiplex

I recently volunteered at a panel, at the DC Independent Film Festival, about the history of movie theaters and palaces in the city of Washington D.C. During this panel, several images of old movie theaters that have been torn down were shown and their details discussed. I was struck by the individual beauty of these places and how different they were from each other. As someone with a strong interest in history, architecture and movies I’ve always felt bad that these places went out of style. While today’s multiplexes are nice and modern, they also seem a bit on the sterile and cold side. DC, like many other major cities, was once home to a huge population of stunning movie palaces with a few still remaining but most having gone the way of the wrecking ball.


Today with so many production companies and such a passionate media and video community, it seems like we are trying to keep the spirit of these places alive by telling rich captivating stories that draw people in the way these grand movie palaces of yesteryear did. Here at Word Wizards, Inc. we are focused on documentaries because time coded transcripts are part of our core business.  However, scripted films have been adored by audiences in ornate movie houses for over a hundred years. Come take a trip down memory lane as we look at a few of the more memorable one.


The Loews Theater was one of the first grand movie theaters in the area, constructed in 1918 at 1306 F Street, NW and built to hold an audience of over 2,000 people. In addition to movies, stage shows were also held here until the mid 30’s. This gem of a theater which featured some of the first air conditioning in DC was renovated in 1964 when theater sales started to decline. Loewe’s put it up for sale in the late 60’s and the building was torn down in the late 70’s. While the outside was nice, the inside was truly dazzling and put the word palace in “movie theater palaces.”

Loews Theater

Fortunately there are those who want to save these important land marks and have succeeded in keeping a few of them in a few different incarnations. The first is the Avalon theater house in Chevy Chase which dates from 1923 and was rescued by a group of concerned citizens in 2002. Today it offers lots of different programming such as first run commercial films, foreign and independent films as well as film festivals. A second theater the Atlas on 1333 H Street was built in the late 30’s, closed in the 70’s and brought back to life as a performing arts center in 2001. Today the Atlas showcases unique performances, offers arts education and serves as a major catalyst for much of the rapid economic revitalization happening on the H Street corridor.

Avalon Atlas

Many wonder why these opulent movie palaces fell out of favor with the general public with the main answer being the rise of multiplexes which had larger operating budgets and were able to attract people on ways that the small single screen theaters simply could not. Much of this has to do with offering more amenities, more of a place to hangout and often more convenient locations as many people started migrating to the suburbs. While the historic preservation movement of the early 60’s alerted the general public to the cause of preservation, today’s historic theater loving activists still face a very uphill battle.


The reasons for this I think are two fold with the first being that the younger generation never experienced these lavish theaters so we don’t really know what were missing.  This in turn makes it tougher for historic activists and those passionate about preservation to reach people since their message is often falling on deaf ears. Yes, the multiplexes are a cool place to hang out, offer a bunch of films, there’s so many in malls and most are conveniently located close to major urban areas but they lack personal feel. The second issue is a much larger and pervasive one that has do with the multitude of options people have when it comes to home entertainment. Why should people leave their home when they have things like netflix, on-demand, redbox, the Internet, and so many different ways to be entertained without having to leave their couch? Going to the theater used to be a privilege and a chance to share unique a experience with real people immersed in a story but its an experience that seems to be having a curtain call.


Avalon Theater –

Atlas Arts Center –







Annapolis Film Festival Wrap Up


This past weekend the Annapolis Film Festival kicked off to some pretty critical acclaim. The festival, which ran from the 21 – 24, seeks to establish the city of Annapolis as a prime breeding ground for different filmmakers to come and show different perspectives through their work to hungry audiences. A previous incarnation actually existed from 2003 to 2006 and was produced by Ken Arnold, Maria Triandos and Demetrea Triantafillides. The founders of the present version hope that in the long term it will bring both cultural and economic growth to Annapolis and the surrounding area. The festival showcased all types of films from gripping fictional tales to thought provoking documentaries. Word Wizards especially loves documentaries because transcription, captioning and logging are among our core business capabilities.  During the weekend, more than 90 films which covered various topics were shown in addition to educational panels and various film showcases.

After the festival, the winners as voted by audience members were:

Best Feature Narrative: Exquisite Corpse Project

The Exquisite Corpse Project, directed by Ben Popik and directed by Joanna Popik, is the result of a challenge given to five members of a former comedy troupe, all good friends. Their task is to each write fifteen pages of a movie script having only read the previous writer’s last five pages. This one-of-a-kind narrative-doc crossover is hilarious and touching.

Best Feature Documentary: Charles Bradley: Soul of America

Charles Bradley: Soul of America, directed by Poull Brien, chronicles the story of 62 year old aspiring soul singer and James Brown impersonator who becomes a star. After a life of abandonment, homelessness and tragedy, his debut album rockets on to Rolling Stone’s top 50 albums of 2011. Mr. Bradley will giving a concert at Ram’s Head OnStage, West Street, Annapolis on April 12th.

Best Narrative Short: The Silk

The Silk, directed by Nathalie Boltt and Clare Burgess, is from New Zealand. Fifty years before, Herb had brought home from the war a length of beautiful silk. As he approaches death, his wife, Amy, takes out the scissors and undertakes a project which transforms their sorrow.

Best Documentary Short: Good Karma $1

Good Karma $1, directed by Jason Berger and Amy Laslett, tells how Ad guru, Alex Bogusky collects signs from homeless people asking for money, wondering if he can help them get their message across better. It turns into a lesson in generosity and humility.

Some of the highlights of the festival included an environmental showcase where a panel of leaders and filmmakers discussed various environmental issues. The festival also celebrated the young filmmakers of tomorrow with their Student Showcase which shows short films from young filmmakers from all around the world. It’s these young people that will be the face of the video production and media industry and bring us films, documentaries, powerful stories and put the spotlight on important issues. Other noteworthy topics at the festival included a panel on the African-American Experience and Segregation in the American School System as well as a shorts program thematically looking at women’s issues.

With the festival having attracted over 2,000 people, that’s great news for independent cinema as a whole. It shows that there’s a desire for it in Annapolis and a generally strong one in the region itself. More importantly it’s yet another exampe of how our production community comes together to celebrate our hard work and support each other. With such a rich pool of talent in the DC/MD/VA area and the sheer number of productions and documentaries that we produce, it’s vital that festivals such as Annapolis thrive. They are not just a showcase for great work but are serve as an important venue for those not from te area to see the type of outstanding video work our professional  community does.


For more info on the festival, check out the link here: