It seems fitting that filmmaker George Stevens Sr.'s centennial coincides with a moviegoing season marked by humanism and unvarnished emotion in films such as Alexander Payne's "Sideways" and David O. Russell's "I {heart} Huckabees" (which wears the titular organ proudly on its sleeve). Because in his tour through nearly every available genre, Stevens bequeathed to the world a clutch of movies that are big, beautiful journeys into the collective American heart. Stevens made comedies and dramas, adventures and musicals -- hugely popular successes, and a few works that fell short in both critics' eyes and box office lines -- throughout a career that spanned six decades and earned him two Best Director Oscars ("A Place in the Sun" and "Giant"). Earlier on, he meticulously crafted audience-friendly fare (think "Swing Time" and "Gunga Din") but the Second World War pulled from Stevens a more urgent desire to make movies that addressed broader concerns: "They don't just come to escape or be entertained," he once said of the nation's moviegoers, "they come to learn about themselves."

Assigned by Gen. Eisenhower to lead a motion picture unit in the European theater, Stevens filmed and witnessed firsthand key passages of World War II, including the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of Paris and the Dachau concentration camp.

The experience informed his subsequent work: The warmly sentimental 1948 stage adaptation "I Remember Mama" was a conscious return to the Bay Area of his youth, while 1951's "A Place in the Sun" began a trilogy steeped in achingly sincere Americana (1953's "Shane" and 1956's "Giant," James Dean's last film) that defined his post-war career.

Among his final three films, the widescreen, black-and-white adaptation of the stage version of "The Diary of Anne Frank" is most suited to his serene, serious approach.

To celebrate Stevens's place in the celluloid firmament, today through Dec. 29 the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring is showing 11 of the director's films, all in 35mm, with five -- including "Shane" and "Talk of the Town" -- represented by new or recently restored prints. On the home front, Warner Bros. debuts the DVDs of "Gunga Din," and "I Remember Mama," in December ("Swing Time" is promised in the near future).

Stevens's son, George Jr., a filmmaker, Kennedy Center Honors founder and former director of the AFI, is scheduled to introduce the Nov. 24 screening of "Penny Serenade," and on Nov. 10, AFI will screen his 1985 documentary, "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey," a look at his father's life and work.

Born in 1904 Oakland to a show business clan, Stevens honed his audaciously deliberate sense of comedic pace and timing as cameraman for two-reelers featuring Laurel and Hardy. He graduated to the big time when 1935's "Alice Adams," starring Katharine Hepburn, drew raves and prompted Time magazine to anoint the filmmaker, then 30, "the youngest important director in Hollywood."

Eleven diverse features followed in eight years. These included the best Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers picture (1936's "Swing Time"); a seminal action-adventure classic (1939's "Gunga Din"); the exquisite 1941 change-of-pace tear-jerker "Penny Serenade"; 1942's comedy of ideas "The Talk of the Town," and a bravura mix of screwball and romance (1943's "The More the Merrier").

As it becomes once again fashionable in American films to tell stories with real people showing real emotions, these uncompromising, unchanging films are worth revisiting.

For a schedule of George Stevens films at the AFI Silver, go to or call 301-495-6700.

Eddie Cockrell is a freelance film critic for Variety and a former programmer at the American Film Institute.

Filmmaker George Stevens Sr., right, on the set of "Giant" with, from left, son George Jr., Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Stevens won a Best Director Oscar for the 1956 movie, below.