The Washington Post

Beyond the Multiplex

Theaters in D.C.’s museums and cultural centers hold hidden treasures for filmgoers

“The Writing in the Sand," screening at the Goethe-Institut.

Cinema doesn’t get more art-house than screening rooms in actual museums. So, when you’re craving a filmgoing experience free from sticky floors and the death grip of Dolby, be glad you live in D.C.

Goethe-Institut

The Goethe-Institut, hidden among the office buildings, chain stores and restaurants of Chinatown, boasts a gallery, a cultural center and a small screening room featuring films from Germany and beyond. “We like to show a fairly wide variety,” says Norma Broadwater, public relations coordinator for the institute. That can include such varied works as high-art films and contributions from contemporary German directors, such as Wim Wenders’ Oscar-nominated documentary “Pina.” The venue serves as a screening location for film festivals, such as D.C.’s annual Environmental Film Festival.

Photographic Memories: On Monday, Goethe concludes its PhotoFilm! series, which explores the cinematic use of still photography to emphasize the power of image over action. The final installment, “The Plasticity of the Moment,” looks at the fleeting nature of time through films including British documentarian Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s 1991 work “The Writing in the Sand,” which pieces together snapshots taken on beaches in North England over a 10-year period. Also screening is Maki Satake’s 2009 film “Kurashi Ato (Vestige of Life),” left, in which the Japanese director traces her family’s history through personal photos while visiting her grandparents’ former home.

Goethe-Institut, 812 7th St. NW; $4-$7; 202-289-1200. (Mt. Vernon Sq)

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art

At the Freer and Sackler, film curator Tom Vick selects Asian-cinema programming based on a couple of criteria: Sometimes the films enhance an exhibit being held at the museum, and sometimes he picks them because they’re just good movies. “[The film program] started with the idea that the main goal would be to enhance exhibitions, and that has changed over the years — film is an art form in its own right.” The galleries often hold fests that focus on one particular country, showcasing filmmakers whose work is hard to see in the States.

Looking East: On April 15, the Freer screens four animated films by Hayao Miyazaki, including 1997’s “Princess Mononoke,” a meditation on courage and conservation, and 2001’s “Spirited Away,” above, an animated trip through Japanese mythology. From Sunday to April 26, the Freer hosts the Korean Film Festival D.C., featuring photographer and video artist Park Chan-kyong’s 2011 feature debut, “Anyang, Paradise City,” screening March 16 at 7 p.m. The pseudo-documentary touches on the defining moments in Korean history, from a tragic fire that killed workers during the 1988 Olympics to the search for a 500-year-old “grandmother tree.”

Freer Gallery of Art, Jefferson Drive and 12th Street SW; free; 202-633-4880. (Smithsonian)

“The Trial of Joan of Arc,” at the National Gallery of Art.

National Gallery of Art

At the National Gallery of Art, the biggest draw is often who’s behind the camera. The NGA invites what film program director Peggy Parsons calls “artist filmmakers” — often those working in avant-garde cinema — to lead discussions after screenings. Series can come from across the world — or sometimes from just across the street. “We borrow from the Library of Congress; we borrow from archives in Norway, Sweden,” Parsons says. And film buffs can rest assured that these aren’t DVDs being FedExed from place to place. “If a film was made in 1935 and in 35 millimeter, we show it in 35 millimeter.”

French Twist: Through April 1, the National Gallery of Art presents a retrospective of works by French filmmaker Robert Bresson, known for his use of nonprofessional actors and elliptical story lines. “Four Nights of a Dreamer (Quatre Nuits d’un Rêveur),” above, from 1972, screening March 17 at 4:30 p.m., reimagines Dostoyevsky’s “White Nights” on the banks of the River Seine, following an artist and a young woman over four fateful meetings. His 1962 film “The Trial of Joan of Arc,” screening March 31 at 2:30 p.m., is a cacophonous (but music-free) account of the heroine’s 15th-century heresy trial.

National Gallery of Art, 4th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; free; 202-737-4215. (Archives)

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film, arts and events for Express.

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