Cinephiles in Washington have no shortage of movie-viewing options, from Imax screens at the Smithsonian to film festivals at AFI Silver Theatre to the intimate screening rooms at Atlantic Plumbing. But shelling out $13 to $15 every time you want to see a flick can leave an Orson Welles-size dent in your wallet. Thankfully, there's plenty of free cinema to be seen in Washington — classics, B-movies, even the latest foreign releases.
When and where: Last Tuesday of the month at Songbyrd, 2475 18th St. NW.
This four-year-old series launched by Shaolin Jazz demonstrates the connections between hip-hop and kung fu cultures through screenings of straight-up kung fu films — and the occasional more-mainstream martial arts movie. DJ 2-Tone Jones blends a soundtrack of hip-hop, jazz and funk beats to accompany such films as “Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang,” “Black Belt Jones” and “Big Trouble in Little China.” More than just backing tracks, 2-Tone's music augments what's happening on-screen, making for a new way to look at some great, if unheralded, films.
When and where: Screenings vary, but they frequently take place on weekends in the Freer's Meyer Auditorium, 1050 Independence Ave SW.
The Smithsonian galleries that are dedicated to Asian art regularly include screenings in the theater-like Meyer Auditorium. Although they're best known for big-picture festivals, such as the annual Iranian Film Festival and the Made in Hong Kong Film Festival, the galleries also hosts small, thoughtful series, such as the coming one on Umetsugu Inoue —" Japan’s music man” — and “Women at the Helm: Four by Female Directors from Asia.” There's also a monthly matinee of Japanese classics, and seasonal “Freer Film Friday” after-hours events, with food and drinks, tours of museum exhibits, and screenings.
When and where: Last Friday of the month at the Goethe-Institut, 1990 K St. NW.
You'd expect a worldwide German cultural center to screen German films, wouldn't you? Once a month, the Goethe-Institut's D.C. office offers exactly that: Some are major releases, some are art-house fare, but all are shown with English subtitles. Scheduled films include “Color of the Ocean (Die Farbe des Ozeans)” in June, about the plight of refugees, and “Victoria,” a single-take film about a night in Berlin, in August. Viewers are welcome to bring their own food and drinks.
When and where: Monthly screenings at the Japan Information and Culture Center, 1150 18th St. NW.
The Japanese Embassy's official cultural center hosts exhibitions, lectures and regular film screenings. The monthly “J-Films” series focuses on new and recent films; other features include “Journey Through Anime,” a year-long celebration of the animated art form's centennial, and the ongoing “Women in Cinema.” All have English subtitles. For security reasons, guests are required to register for the center's events.
When and where: The theater is on the third floor of the James Madison Building, at Independence Avenue and First Street SE.
The Library of Congress holds one of the largest movie collections in the world, and it has hosted successful free public film series, such as the 1980s movies on the Thomas Jefferson Building's lawn last summer. But it can be difficult to find details about movie events: The library's main calendar doesn't mention screenings that are listed on the library's Eventbrite ticket page, and the Library of Congress's Moving Image Research Center's official Mary Pickford website only lists one coming screening. You may have to click on multiple sites for a schedule and arrive early to get a seat. But once you do, you'll be able to say you saw “Labyrinth” or “On the Waterfront” at the Library of Congress. Remember to read the fine print: Some films require advance reservations, while others admit viewers on a first-come, first-seated basis.
When and where: Monthly at the Old Greenbelt Theatre, 129 Centerway, Greenbelt.
The art deco Greenbelt Theatre is one of the area's last remaining movie palaces. Recently restored and now run as a nonprofit, it features several free ongoing matinee series. Films for a Better Tomorrow shows films from 1938 — real 35mm film! — on one Sunday afternoon each month to celebrate the moviehouse's 80th anniversary. The Monday Matinee Classics program highlights movies like 1957's “Funny Face” (March) and 1951's “The African Queen” (May) on the first Monday of the month.
When and where: Films are shown in the East Building Auditorium, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW.
The National Gallery of Art's 500-seat auditorium shows plenty of films about art and artists — note the coming series of documentaries related to the “Outliers and American Vanguard Art” exhibition — but its programming goes beyond that, such as with observational films by Jem Cohen, the groundbreaking tap dance documentary “No Maps on My Taps,” a five-part series featuring films restored by the British Film Institute. Add the Cine-Concerts, which pair silent movies with live musical accompaniment, and you have a number of reasons to spend weekend afternoons in the museum.
When and where: Monday nights at 7 p.m. at Smoke and Barrel, 2471 18th St. NW.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2019, the Washington Psychotronic Film Society is the weird, sometimes creepy grandfather of Washington movie series. Every Monday night, the society screens so-bad-they're-good B-movies, foreign films and horror movies, such as “The Thing With Two Heads,” “Cannibal Apocalypse” and “Dead End Drive-In.” Some you may have heard of, like Russ Meyer's “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” (being screened next week), but most are forgotten — until they're dragged out for a Monday screening.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the anniversary the Washington Psychotronic Film Society will mark next year. It is the 30th, not 40th.