FOR THE PAST four years, the heroic Bruce Posner of New York's Anthology Film Archives has been touring the world with films from "Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1893-1941," a fascinating compendium of early films that explored the cinema not for its storytelling potential, but as a medium for abstraction on par with painting and sculpture.
"Unseen Cinema" came to Washington in 2002, but local viewers will have a chance once again to see its treasures on the big screen this weekend, at the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art. The exhibitions coincide with the long-awaited release on Tuesday of a seven-disc DVD boxed set of "Unseen Cinema" films and "Picturing a Metropolis: New York City Unveiled," a 152-minute DVD of 26 short films depicting life in that rapidly changing city during the same period.
On Friday at 7, Posner and his Anthology colleagues, David Shepard and Robert Haller, will present "Dance, Dance, Dance: Image, Movement Abstraction" at the Library of Congress's Mary Pickford Theater. The program consists of the 15 short films that comprise the DVD collection's "Viva La Dance" disc, celebrating early, groundbreaking attempts to exploit film for its kinetic, expressive capabilities.
On Saturday at 3:30, in the East Building Auditorium of the National Gallery, Haller will present "The Devil's Plaything: Fantastic Myths and Fairytales," a compilation of playful, magic-show-inspired footage by such pioneers as Edwin S. Porter, Orson Welles and Elia Kazan, among others.
The boxed set will contain all 155 films that have been touring since 2001, 19 hours in all of rarely seen work by some of film history's most important artists, including Sergei Eisenstein, Ernst Lubitsch, Busby Berkeley and Charles Vidor, as well as Paul Strand, Fernand Leger and Man Ray.
The Mary Pickford Theater is on the third floor of the Library of Congress Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. SE. Admission is free, and seats may be reserved. Call 202-707-5677 or visit www.loc.gov.
The National Gallery's East Building is at Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Admission is free. Call 202-842-6799 or visit www.nga.gov/programs/film.shtm.
"Sabah," a drama about a 40-year-old Syrian emigre living in Canada and her attempts to find love despite the confining mores of her family, will kick off this year's "Arabian Sights" series, devoted to contemporary Arab cinema. Writer-director Ruba Nadda will be at the Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue Cinemas to introduce the film, which stars Arsinee Khanjian (otherwise known as Mrs. Atom Egoyan). It will be shown Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 9 p.m.
"Arabian Sights," which is presented by the DC International Film Festival, continues through Oct. 23 and will include films from Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco, as well as the United States, United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Admission is $9 (unless otherwise noted), and a festival pass is available for $72. All screenings are at the Loews Cineplex Wisconsin Avenue Cinemas, 4000 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Call 202-724-5613 or visit www.filmfestdc.org.
-- Ann Hornaday