AFI Silver Theatre Director to Retire After Nearly 50 Years of Service

American Film Institute announced on Wednesday that AFI Silver Theatre director Ray Barry is retiring after nearly 50 years of service.

Barry served as the Director of the AFI Theater at the John F. Kennedy Center and led AFI’s initiative to restore and renovate the historic Silver Theatre at 8633 Colesville Rd. in downtown Silver Spring.

“It has been a great privilege to work for so many years in a career devoted to bringing the best in American and world cinema to the screen. And for the past 20 years to do this work at an historic theater that is so deeply anchored in the fabric of its community as the AFI Silver, has been the experience of a lifetime,” Barry said in a prepared statement.

Todd Hitchcock, Director of Programming at Silver Theatre and Associate Director of the Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, has been appointed as Barry’s replacement.

“It has been an honor and privilege to have Ray as a long-time leader in the AFI family. He has worn many hats over his nearly 50 years at AFI – from the earliest days of the AFI Theater in the Kennedy Center to the Director of the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. His impact on AFI and the national film community is immeasurable, as is his long-standing dedication to the magic of movies,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI President and CEO. “We look forward to building on Ray’s legacy with Todd Hitchcock, who brings a wealth of experience and world-class film programming to this new role.”

“Ray Barry has guided AFI Silver to great heights over these past 20 years, including navigating us through the many challenges of the pandemic,” said Todd Hitchcock. “It’s been a pleasure to learn from and work with him over these years, and I’m sincerely honored to be continuing along the path he blazed as we pursue the next chapter for our theater and our dedicated moviegoing audiences.”

Barry was featured in one of the first articles the Source ever published, “It Seemed Crazy at the Time“.

The first time Ray Barry saw the Silver Theatre his reaction was not good.

He saw dead animals, mold, water and more in a theater surrounded by empty storefronts. But he had been asked by the American Film Institute, where he had worked since 1980, to lead an exploration of the possibility of moving AFI from the Kennedy Center to downtown Silver Spring.

“When the county first came to talk to us about it, it seemed insane,” he said in 2016. “It seemed like ‘you must be kidding.’ In fact, there was really a great vision that everybody had.”

That vision has come to fruition, not just with the theater but also in the general redevelopment of Silver Spring. However, to many area residents, as well as those in government and business, it’s still the proverbial work in progress.

That’s one of the reasons former county executive Ike Leggett created the Silver Spring Arts & Entertainment District Advisory Committee in 2008. The group, made up of area residents and representatives of various businesses and entertainment venues in downtown Silver Spring, was set up to “advise the County Executive and the Silver Spring Regional Center on how to create and support opportunities for arts and entertainment entities.”

Barry, a member of the committee since its inception, took over as chair in January 2016. Downtown Silver Spring was designated as the state’s first arts & entertainment district on Dec. 31, 2001. Barry was one of the drivers of the effort to get legislation passed to create these districts around the state.

“Everybody [involved in the effort] wanted Silver Spring and the downtown area to be distinctive,” Barry said. “I think the sense of place and critical mass—everybody felt that needed to be there. We needed more concentrated creative activity. I think we’ve been rolling forward on that.”

And there’s no lack of ideas about how to continue to strengthen the downtown area. For example, Barry would like to see the county focus on the concept of placemaking.

“It’s sort of an amorphous, general term but I think with most people, it’s you know it when you see it,” he said. “It’s hard to manufacture in a sense that I think it has to have an authentic feel to be meaningful.”

For Barry, it’s a vision of a place that people want to be, one with energy, substance, and that authentic feel on the ground.

“Those things again are rather subjective, but I think we can work on them in the sense of what our streetscape looks like, what our lighting looks like—the little things that pull the threads together.”

To that end, Barry recently sent a letter to the county executive on behalf of the committee to request “that funding be allocated to secure professional consultants to conceptualize and develop a cohesive plan for the streetscape appeal and branding of Silver Spring as an arts and entertainment district, and as a distinctive destination within the greater Washington metropolitan area.”

Since then, he’s had several meetings with county staff to explore placemaking and how the county can help to make it happen in Silver Spring.

In the meantime, he notes that a lot of progress has been made in the downtown area.

“There’s a very positive feel when you walk around,” Barry said in 2016. “I think that’s what we need to nurture.”

“We want to be successful on our own terms and I think we can and are,” he continued. “We have going here what I think is kind of special . . . a lively ethnic, economic, racial mix, diversity enjoying and sharing the public space and the community in a way that I think is not seen everywhere.

“I actually think that we are a really cool place and we should own that.”

Photo: “Movie Theater Marquee” by Mike J Maguire is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Read More:
MCDOT to Hold Public Meeting on Proposed Carroll Ave. Bike Lanes