Written in a unique memoir style, Becoming AFI: 50 Years Inside the American Film Institute offers a candid look at how this remarkable organization has brought together aspiring filmmakers, outstanding educators, and visionary artists. The book details AFI’s journey to becoming the foremost national champion for moving images as a vibrant art form and a critical component of America’s cultural history.
AFI’s story is chronicled through in-depth essays written by those who have been involved in its adventures, growth, and successes: from its early years under George Stevens Jr.’s direction at the legendary Greystone mansion and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC; through its period of incredible growth, under Jean Picker Firstenberg’s guidance, as an influential cultural institution at its landmark Hollywood campus; to its continued years of excellence under Bob Gazzale’s dynamic leadership.
Becoming AFI provides an insightful, behind-the-scenes look at how AFI—with passionate determination—overcame the hurdles of advancing technology, political shifts, and new audience dynamics to turn its aspirations into a substantial and highly successful organization. A tireless advocate of moving images as one of America’s most popular art forms, AFI is maturing into one of the world’s most respected educational and cultural institutions.
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About the Author
James Hindman, PhD, has spent his career in cinema and performing arts, creating and leading professional and public education programs at major institutions. During his twenty-four years at the American Film Institute, where he served as co-director and chief operating officer, he was provost of the AFI Conservatory, which he nurtured through WASC accreditation. He was also the uncredited producer of the award-winning feature documentary Visions of Light and the television series Starring the Actor. He developed the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Springs, Maryland, as well as numerous television projects and international film and television festivals. Subsequent to AFI, he developed and led film schools in the U.S. and internationally, including the Red Sea School of Cinematic Arts in Aqaba, Jordan, and New Mexico State University’s Creative Media Institute in Las Cruces. He is currently on the board of the New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe, charged with creating a new cinematic and media arts program and facilities for the school. Prior to AFI, he served as head of graduate studies in the Performing Arts Department at American University in Washington, DC, having previously taught at the University of North Carolina. Hindman holds a PhD in drama from the University of Georgia and has served on the boards of the AIDS Service Center and LAMP in Los Angeles. He currently splits his time between Santa Monica, California, and Taos, New Mexico.
Patty Jenkins made history in 2017 when she directed her second film, Wonder Woman, becoming the first woman to direct a studio superhero movie and earning the biggest domestic opening of all time for a woman director. Jenkins wrote and directed her first film, the crime drama Monster, in 2003, launching Charlize Theron’s career with many awards, including an Oscar for Best Actress. Jenkins graduated from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1993 and the AFI Conservatory in 2001.
Dana Gioia was appointed Poet Laureate of the State of California in 2015 by Governor Jerry Brown. An award-winning poet who has published five collections of poetry, Gioia served as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 to 2009, and was named a USC Judge Widney Professor in Poetry and Public Art in 2011.
David Lynch, born in 1946 in Missoula, Montana. Eagle Scout.
Nick DeMartino is a Los Angeles-based media and technology consultant who advises companies on strategy, content distribution, strategic partnerships, and marketing. He is chairman of the advisory board and senior advisor for the Toronto-based digital media accelerator IDEABOOST, and advisor to POV Partners, a private investment and operating company in the entertainment and media sector. Previously, DeMartino was the senior vice president for media and technology at the American Film Institute, where he created innovative programs like the AFI Digital Content Lab, which incubated more than ninety multiplatform applications with the biggest names in media. He was named No. 3 on the PGA/The Hollywood Reporter’s list of Digital 50 and was twice named among the most influential in broadband by the L.A. Business Journal.
Bob Gazzale has served as president and CEO of the AFI since November 2007. He first joined the Institute in 1992, holding various positions including director of AFI programs in New York and director of AFI productions in L.A. Since 2003, he has been the writer and executive producer of the AFI Life Achievement Award telecasts. He also created the format for the AFI AWARDS, an annual almanac of excellence, as well as AFI Night at the Movies. Gazzale was a principal in the team that created, produced, and wrote the AFI’s 100 Years... series, which has driven millions of people back to the classics of American film.
Patricia King Hanson served as executive editor and project director of the AFI Catalog of Feature Films from 1983 to 2009. Prior to coming to AFI, she was the associate editor of Magill’s Survey of Cinema, Magill’s Bibliography of Literary Criticism, and Magill’s Cinema Annual. She has contributed dozens of articles on film to magazines, including British publications Flics, Stills, The Listener, and Moving Pictures International, and was a reviewer for the British trade publication Screen International.
Larry Kirkman is a professor of Film and Media Arts and dean emeritus of the School of Communication at American University. His pioneering work in public-purpose media has encompassed documentaries, social advertising campaigns, strategic communications for nonprofits, digital journalism, and communication policy. He is an executive producer in the Investigative Reporting Workshop and senior research fellow in the Center for Media and Social Impact.
Emily Laskin has held leadership positions in nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles for over thirty years. She has led talented teams at the American Film Institute, the L.A. Philharmonic, Art Center College of Design, Sundance Institute, and USC Marshall School of Business. She is currently senior vice president at Art Center College of Design. At AFI, Laskin supervised broad-based offerings of public programs held across the country and a wide range of national publications via the AFI Press, and was instrumental in securing the gift from Apple that created one of the first computer labs designed to explore applications appropriate to filmmaking.
Table of ContentsForeword
50 Years of AFI: A Timeline
Chapter 1: The Launch To Begin at the Beginning by Jean Picker Firstenberg
Chapter 2: Next Steps AFI in 1980: A New Decade, A New Director, A New Home by Jean Picker Firstenberg
Chapter 3: Film Education Training the Next Generation: From Center for Advanced Film Studies to the AFI Conservatory by James Hindman
Chapter 4: Women in Charge AFI Directing Workshop for Women: Give Them a Chance by Jean Picker Firstenberg
Chapter 5: Financial Realities AFI Funding: Growing Up and Standing Tall by Jean Picker Firstenberg
Chapter 6: Film Preservation Finding America’s Film History by Jean Picker Firstenberg
The Final Word: AFI Catalog of Feature Films by Patricia King Hanson
Chapter 7: Technology’s Influence As the World Turns: From Video to the Digital Revolution by James Hindman
Large Screen to Small Screen: AFI Enters the Video Age by Larry Kirkman AFI Introduces Apple to Creatives by Emily Laskin
AFI and the Digital World by Nick DeMartino
Chapter 8: Exhibition AFI’s Commitment to the Silver Screen: As Films Are Meant to Be Seen by Jean Picker Firstenberg
AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center: 21st Century Exhibition Vision by James Hindman
Chapter 9: Developing a Public Vision American Film Magazine by Jean Picker Firstenberg
AFI Productions by James Hindman
Chapter 10: Major Moments Landmarks in AFI’s Identity by Jean Picker Firstenberg
Chapter 11: Leadership Ensuring the Future: The Role of AFI’s Board of Trustees by Jean Picker Firstenberg
Chapter 12: Today’s AFI To 50 and Beyond by Jean Picker Firstenberg
Chapter 13: Themes and Lessons Looking Back to Look Forward by James Hindman
Appendix AFI Trustees
AFI Conservatory Mission, Core Values, Objectives and Commitments
AFI Conservatory Honorary Degree Recipients
About the Authors and Contributors
What People are Saying About This
“This book puts you directly behind the scenes for a story that began with a dream, overcame constant challenges, and evolved into the institution it is today.” Steven Spielberg
“As it celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, AFI stands as our country’s leading cultural and education institution in the history of American cinema. Becoming AFI is an admirable personal account of how that mission to nurture and protect the artistic and ethical standards of the film industry unfolded.” Henry Louis Gates Jr., author, scholar, historian, and filmmaker
“It is rare to find the story of a cultural institution’s birth and growth actually written by those who were on the firing line during the process. It’s even more rare to find the story written by authors who are incisive, honest, observant, and committed to telling it like it really was. In particular, Jean Firstenberg’s first-hand account of how and why the AFI was one of the 1960s government-funded arts institutions to survive is an excellent read. It’s also an insight into successful female leadership, something we still don’t have enough of today.” Jeanine Basinger, film historian-academic, author, and AFI trustee
“WELL DONE! This book tells a wonderful history and an important story about Hollywood, education in the arts, and the movie business. Brava!” Marsha Mason, actor, director, author, and AFI trustee emeritus
“AFI saved our film history. AFI celebrates filmmakers. AFI trains the next generation. Thanks to the NEA for creating the AFI. Thanks to Becoming AFI for telling us the fascinating story of its fifty-year history. And a big thank you to Jean Picker Firstenberg and James Hindman for documenting all of it! Here’s to the next fifty!” Edward James Olmos, actor and AFI trustee
“The AFI started out as an experiment verging on a mystery. But somehow it became an incubator for some of the great film talent of the late part of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. This is a tribute to the dedication and insight of its leaders and its faculty and its Fellows.” Caleb Deschanel, filmmaker (AFI class of 1969)
“Documented here by the people who lived it, this is a remarkable tale of how a major institution, created out of whole cloth, wove itself into the American fabric.” Cokie Roberts, author and political commentator for ABC and NPR