Todd Hitchcock selects the films that are shown at AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. To get a better sense of how movies will play at the Silver Spring theater, he likes to watch them with a “real” audience (vs. an industry screening). (Jonathan Thorpe / For The Washington Post/FTWP)

The AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center shows upward of 600 movies per year, its three auditoriums presenting a sprawling smorgasbord of first-run features, classics, obscure archival prints, rarities from global cinema and the odd locally made one-off. Not to mention the hugely popular annual programs at the Silver Spring theater, including the American Film Institute's Latin American Film Festival, European Union Film Showcase and New African Films Festival.

The person in charge of the menu is Todd Hitchcock, director of programming, who typically can be found somewhere on the festival circuit, scoping out films that will connect with his audience of art house aficionados, repertory buffs, viewers with interests in particular film cultures and garden-variety fans. With Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and Bologna under his belt, Hitchcock is now preparing to scour the Toronto International Film Festival for his fall-winter season.

His spidey sense is tingling for Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water," but he likes to see a movie on its feet in front of a "real" audience to make sure it will play. "I went to see 'Moonlight' at a public screening last year, not the press and industry screening," Hitchcock recalled recently. "I was blown away by it, but seeing it with an audience and getting a sense of the room's reaction, that's a valuable thing."

The life of a programmer isn't all festivals and exotic locales: When The Washington Post caught up with Hitchcock, he was proofreading the print program for AFI Silver's fall schedule. "The movies have this aura of glamour and history around them, and that's great and fun," he says, "but a lot of the work involved in putting stuff up on screen is just logistics. The first thing you learn is shipping and purchase orders."

And negotiation: As the fall awards season heats up, Hitchcock is already bracing for some difficult decisions ahead. "Clustered in the weeks heading into Thanksgiving weekend, which is usually a great filmgoing weekend, we have 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri,' 'Darkest Hour,' 'Last Flag Flying,' 'Call Me By Your Name' and 'The Current War,' " he says. "And at this point in time, I believe they're all legitimate possibilities for us to actually book. But you have to make choices. At some point, I will have to say yes to some and no to others and just hope I get it right."