Category Archives: #AFI

New Film Festival Debuts This November

Posted by Larry Gleeson

In a dramatic brand expansion, NBC News’ MEET THE PRESS WITH CHUCK TODD will hit the big screen for the first time this fall, joining forces with AFI for an innovative documentary film festival premiere featuring must-watch untold stories of American politics.

See the live news announcement here.

The first-ever Meet The Press Film Festival n Collaboration with the American Film Institute will be held this November in Washington, DC, featuring seven short-length documentary films produced with a diversity of perspectives. Submissions are now being accepted.

The commanding journalism of “Meet the Press” is a natural fit with AFI, an institute established in 1967 after President Johnson’s mandate — to bring “together leading artists of the film industry, outstanding educators and young men and women who wish to pursue the 20th-century art form as their life’s work.” AFI is also known for its acclaimed Washington, DC-area documentary festival. The innovative collaboration not only combines NBC News’ benchmark political reporting with AFI’s dedication to connecting audiences, filmmakers and policy leaders — it celebrates the 70th and 50th anniversaries, respectively, of both historical institutions.

With politics-themed and issue-oriented documentaries more popular now than ever before, the groundbreaking November film festival is a consequential expansion for the longest-running show on television. By pairing gold standard reporting with long-form storytelling, MEET THE PRESS and AFI are redefining the gravity and scope of a Sunday public affairs program in 21st century political journalism.

More information on the first-ever film festival will be announced in the coming weeks.





The AFI FEST Interview: Wevr’s James Kaelan on Virtual Reality Storytelling

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Screen Shot 2017-08-14 at 4.02.32 PMEach year, AFI FEST presented by Audi highlights cutting-edge virtual reality (VR) storytelling with the State of the Art Technology Showcase. I attended last year and heard Keynote Speaker, Anthony Blatt, Co-Founder of Wevr, at the AFI FEST 2016 State of the Art Technology Showcase. Like it or not VR is here to stay. Moreover, VR offers some substantial benefits.

AFI spoke with James Kaelan, current Director of Development + Acquisitions at VR creative studio and production company Wevr, about his work in VR and the future of the medium. Formerly Creative Director at Seed&Spark, Kaelan brought his immersive short-film horror experience THE VISITOR to AFI FEST last year for the Showcase.

AFI: What got you interested in creating VR work in the first place?

JK: I’m as surprised as anyone to find myself working in VR. I’ve always considered myself something of a Luddite — skeptical, generally, of the advance of technology. But back at the end of 2014, Anthony Batt, who’s a co-founder of Wevr, was advising at Seed&Spark (which I helped co-found), and invited our team to visit their offices and watch some of the preliminary 360 video and CGI work they were producing. I remember sitting in the conference room and putting on the prototype of the Samsung Gear VR, and being immediately shocked by the potential of the technology. This wasn’t some shiny new feature grafted onto cinema — like 3D or a rumble pack in your theater chair. This was a new medium, requiring a brand new language.

James KaelanJames Kaelan

AFI: What misconceptions do you think are out there among audiences when they first encounter VR work?

JK: I think audiences, rightfully, expect a lot from the medium. Most people who’ve had any direct contact with the very broad array of experiences that we broadly group together as “VR” have still only seen monoscopic 360 video, either on a Google Cardboard or a Gear. And with such work, after you’ve gotten over the initial thrill of discovering that you can look around, essentially, the inside of a sphere, your expectations accelerate. Two years ago we were still at the Lumière brothers stage of VR. Workers leaving a factory? Awesome. Train pulling into a station? Super awesome. But unlike with cinema in its early years, the audience for VR has extremely high expectations about narrative complexity and image fidelity gleaned from the last 130 years of film. They won’t tolerate inferior quality for very long. So those of us on the creative — and technical — side of the medium have to find a way to meet those assumptions. Some creators, in a rush to find a viable language in VR, have resorted to jamming it into the paradigm of framed storytelling, force-mediating the viewer’s perspective through edits, and teaching the audience to remain passive. And I don’t want to dismiss those techniques out of hand. But I think it’s our job to actually forget the rules we apply to other media, and continue striving to invent a brand new way of telling stories. When we begin to master that new language, audiences will come in droves.

AFI: What’s the biggest challenge documentary filmmakers encounter when creating something for the VR space?

JK: I would actually say that documentary filmmakers are better equipped, naturally, to transition into VR — or at least the 360 video element of it. And I say this because, without painting “nonfiction” storytellers with too broad a brush (and without sinking into the mire of the objectivity versus subjectivity debate), documentary filmmakers engage with existing subjects, rather than inventing new ones from scratch. Certainly when you look to the vérité side of documentary film, where the goal is observation rather than participation or investigation, 360 should feel quite natural to those artists — because it’s actually closer (I say with great trepidation) to a purer strain of objectivity: because you’ve gotten rid of the frame. You’ve chosen where to place the camera and when, but you’re capturing the entirety of the environment simultaneously. Fiction filmmakers are probably less likely to encounter — or invent — story-worlds that unfold in both halves of the sphere simultaneously. All of that is to say, I literally wish I’d spent more time making long-take docs before moving into VR!

AFI: What types of artists are you looking to work with at Wevr?

JK: Wevr is in this unique place where we’ve made a name for ourselves making some of the most phenomenal, intricate, interactive, CG, room-scale VR — like theBlu and Gnomes & Goblins — while simultaneously making, and being recognized on the international film festival circuit, for 360 monoscopic video work that has cost less than $10,000 to produce. So I don’t want to pigeonhole Wevr. We make simulations with Jon Favreau on one end, and on the other, we work with college students who are interning with us during the summer. What unites those two groups is that both maximize, or exceed, what’s capable within the constraints of their given budgets. Within reason, you give any artist enough time and money and she’ll make something incredible. More impressive — and more attractive to us — is the artist who can innovate in times of scarcity and abundance. At this moment in the history of VR, if you can tell stories dynamically without having to hire a team of engineers to execute your vision, you’ll get more work done. You’ll actually get to practice your craft. Later you can have a team of 100, and a budget of a million times that.

AFI: What’s a common mistake you see new artists making when they first start creating work for the VR space?

JK: Artists working in VR try to replicate what’s already familiar to them. And ironically, it’s the filmmakers who have the toughest time transitioning — myself included. We miss the frame. We miss the authorial hand that mediates perspective and attention. We miss the freedom to juxtapose through editing. And because we miss those things, our first inclination is to figure out how to port them into VR. The best — and least possible — approach is to forget everything you know, like Pierre Menard trying to write the Quixote. Whereas artists from theater, from the gallery and museum installation world, come to VR almost naturally. They think about physical navigation and multi-sensory experience. They think about how things feel to the touch. They think about how things smell. They think about how the viewer moves, most importantly. That’s an invaluable perspective to have at this still-early stage in VR.

AFI: What was your experience like showcasing VR work at AFI FEST?

JK: For me — and for my collaborators on the project, Blessing Yen and Eve Cohen — showing THE VISITOR at AFI FEST last year was an honor. In order to earn a living while being a filmmaker, I’ve done a lot of different jobs. In the beginning I bussed tables. Later I got to write about film for living. Now I get to create, and help others create, VR. But during that entire time, from clearing dishes at Mohawk Bend in Echo Park six years ago to working at Wevr now, AFI FEST has been the same: a free festival, stocked with the most discerning slate of films (and now VR) from around the world. And I’ve gone every year since I’ve lived in LA. So, it meant a lot to me to be included last year. On top of that, the presentation of the VR experiences themselves, spread around multiple dedicated spaces that never felt oppressively crowded or loud, made AFI one of my favorite stops on the circuit last year.

Interactive and virtual reality entries for AFI FEST 2017 presented by Audi are now being accepted for the State of the Art Technology Showcase, which highlights one-of-a-kind projects and events at the intersection of technology, cinema and innovation. The deadline to submit your projects is August 31, 2017. Submit today at or



AFI FEST 2017 Final call for Submissions

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Send AFI your films! The final deadline for submitting feature, documentary, experimental and short films to AFI FEST 2017 presented by Audi is July 14, 2017.

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AFI FEST 2017 is open for submissions via Withoutabox. Please be advised of the  deadlines below.

Early Deadline: March 31, 2017
Short Films (under 30 minutes) – $35
Feature Films (over 30 minutes) – $55

Official Deadline: May 5, 2017
Short Films – $45
Feature Films – $65

Final Deadline: July 14, 2017
Short Films – $55
Feature Films – $75


Submit your films here via Withoutabox


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AFI’s Heritage in Washington, DC

Posted by Larry Gleeson

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Established by President Lyndon Johnson in the White House Rose Garden, the American Film Institute was officially founded in 1967. Gregory Peck was named first chair of the Board of Trustees and George Stevens, Jr., its director and CEO.

The very first Board was comprised of film luminaries and masters, including Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Poitier, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Jack Valenti.

While AFI’s deep DC roots date back more than 50 years, they are also still present to this day, with the Institute’s exhibition and preservation efforts still thriving in the nation’s capital.


Started as SILVERDOCS in 2003, AFI DOCS has sought to recognize and celebrate the highest standards in documentary filmmaking around the world — convening a unique combination of artists and legislators. Attendees have included Senators, members of the President’s Cabinet and Congress, journalists and enthusiastic lovers of the art form.

AFI first established an exhibition presence first at L’Enfant Plaza in 1970 before taking up official residence in the Kennedy Center, unveiling premiere restorations, classic film prints and more.

The AFI Collections at the Library of Congress still lives today as a body of 60,000 films, contributing to our nation’s growing volume of culturally, historically or aesthetically significant works of moving image.

AFI's Founding Chairs and Leaders: George Stevens, Jr., Roger Stevens, Gregory Peck, Sidney Poitier.
AFI’s Founding Chairs and Leaders: George Stevens, Jr., Roger Stevens, Gregory Peck, Sidney Poitier.

Now located in Silver Spring, MD, the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center has historically offered an exclusive repertory venue for classic, arthouse, international and contemporary films that delivers these film treasures year-round to audiences of all ages, standing tall amid a current climate of vanishing rep houses and even fewer celluloid sanctuaries. AFI Silver is a continuation of AFI’s longstanding presence at the advent of nonprofit film exhibition.

Today, AFI has sought to recognize and celebrate the highest standards in documentary filmmaking around the world — convening a unique combination of artists and legislators. Attendees have included Senators, members of the President’s Cabinet and Congress, journalists and enthusiastic lovers of the art form. The 2017 edition of the festival took place June 14–18.

With conversations and experiences you won’t experience at any other film festival, AFI DOCS harnesses the power of this important art form and its potential to inspire change — and is a cornerstone of AFI’s DC programs. See this year’s audience award winners here.

Check out AFI’s 50 Years, 50 Moments timeline for even more history here.

Pictured at top: Founding Trustees at first board meeting, August 5, 1967: Gregory Peck and George Stevens, Jr. (foreground L+C)



American Film Institute Kicks Off 50th Anniversary at AFI Conservatory 2017 Commencement

Posted by Larry Gleeson

A historic AFI Conservatory Commencement at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on Monday, June 5, 2017, marked the 50th Anniversary of the Institute’s formation in 1967, with its honorees — the AFI Class of 2017, as well as Honorary Degree recipients Carol Burnett, Marshall Herskovitz (AFI Class of 1975) and Edward Zwick (AFI Class of 1975) — spanning the past, present and future of the art form.AFI began its commemoration of its golden milestone, which will unfold through 2019 — the 50th Anniversary of the Conservatory’s 1969 inaugural class.  Activities and programs during that timeframe will continue AFI’s promise to educate today’s audiences and tomorrow’s artists.

In celebration of the Anniversary, AFI Founding Director George Stevens, Jr., joined AFI President Emerita Jean Picker Firstenberg and current AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale — bringing together all three presidents from AFI’s history.  Joining them and the AFI Class of 2017 were Sir Howard Stringer, AFI Board of Trustees Chair, and Robert A. Daly, AFI Board of Directors Chair.

“Fifty years ago, Gregory Peck and I announced the creation of the American Film Institute, with high aspiration and great hopes,” said Stevens.  “Its mission was to advance and elevate the art of film, and one central idea was to create a Center for Advanced Film Studies [known today as the AFI Conservatory], a bridge for young people from learning to make films to becoming professional filmmakers. You, the graduates of 2017, are a fulfillment of that dream.”

AFI Class of 2017
AFI Class of 2017

The Commencement honorees — including this year’s AFI Conservatory graduates, the world’s newest filmmakers — underscored the spirit of the anniversary, as 2017 also marks the 50th birthday of THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW, and Herskovitz and Zwick are both prominent alumni of the Conservatory.  A Doctorate of Fine Arts honoris causa was conferred upon Burnett by special guest Kristin Chenoweth, and Doctorates of Communication Arts honoris causa were conferred upon Herskovitz and Zwick by Firstenberg.  All three Honorary Degree recipients shared words of wisdom with the Class of 2017.  Chenoweth sang a refrain from Burnett’s trademark closing song, “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together.”

Burnett began her comments with her trademark “Tarzan yell” and urged Fellows to “make great art,” while adding, “Nothing is impossible if you believe hard enough, and you work hard enough.”

Herskovitz and Zwick shared anecdotes from their longtime creative collaboration, which began at the AFI Conservatory, and which Herskovitz described as “an extraordinary partnership — and the longest living partnership in Hollywood today.”

“Leaving here you are not alone,” said Zwick, stressing the uniquely collaborative nature of the Conservatory program.  “Your classmates will be there to serve as a living reminder of who you are and what you dream of.”

AFI Honorary Degree recipients Marshall Herskovitz, Carol Burnett and Edward Zwick
AFI Honorary Degree recipients Marshall Herskovitz, Carol Burnett and Edward Zwick

As heard in remarks throughout the event, the AFI Conservatory program has a deep history of propelling alumni to success and acclaim ­— including, most recently, Patty Jenkins (AFI Class of 2000), whose WONDER WOMAN had the biggest box-office opening for a female director ever.

AFI Class of 2017 representative ByongHoon Jo, a graduating AFI Cinematographer, also spoke at the event.

Burnett, Herskovitz and Zwick join an esteemed group of past Honorary Degree recipients, including Robert Altman, Maya Angelou, Kathryn Bigelow, Mel Brooks, Anne V. Coates, Clint Eastwood, Roger Ebert, Nora Ephron, James Earl Jones, Lawrence Kasdan, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Angela Lansbury, John Lasseter, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Helen Mirren, Rita Moreno, Robert Towne, Quentin Tarantino, Cicely Tyson, Haskell Wexler and John Williams.

Pictured above: AFI Board of Directors Chair Robert A. Daly; AFI President & CEO Bob Gazzale; AFI President Emerita Jean Picker Firstenberg; AFI Founding Director George Stevens, Jr.; AFI Board of Trustees Chair Sir Howard Stringer



AFI Life Achievement Award Tribute to Diane Keaton Gathers American Film’s Finest

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Actor, director, writer and icon Diane Keaton was honored with the American Film Institute’s 45th AFI Life Achievement Award on Thursday, June 8, in an evening filled with laughter, stories, song and surprises at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.The televised special, AFI LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: A TRIBUTE TO DIANE KEATON, will air on TNT June 15 at 10:00 p.m. (ET/PT), followed by an encore presentation on sister network Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on July 31 during a night of programming dedicated to her career.

Keaton’s Tribute brought to the stage seven previous AFI Life Achievement Award honorees as performers and presenters for this historic event: Warren Beatty, Jane Fonda, Morgan Freeman, Steve Martin, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Sidney Poitier.  Additional presenters who paid tribute to Keaton included Lisa Kudrow, Rachel McAdams, Martin Short, Sarah Silverman, Emma Stone, Reese Witherspoon and surprise guest Woody Allen.


Among the artists who gathered to celebrate Keaton were Candice Bergen, James L. Brooks, Jerry Bruckheimer, Richard Donner, Illeana Douglas, Richard Dreyfuss, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Diane English, Andy Garcia, Vince Gilligan, Patty Jenkins (AFI Class of 2000), Carol Kane, Andie MacDowell, Nancy Meyers, Meg Ryan, Carole Bayer Sager, Jane Seymour, Steve Tyrell, Jacki Weaver and Dianne Wiest.

The evening began with a special onstage commemoration of AFI’s 50th Anniversary by AFI Founding Director George Stevens, Jr., and AFI founding Board of Trustees Vice Chair and Hollywood icon Sidney Poitier.  “‘Film, without the American contribution, is unimaginable,’” said Stevens, quoting the words of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., founding AFI Board of Trustees member.  “That truth, and the belief of the founding Trustees and the importance of the motion picture, inspired an American Film Institute that would advance and elevate the art of film in the United States.”

Sidney Poitier and George Stevens, Jr.
Sidney Poitier and George Stevens, Jr.

Acclaimed cinematographer and AFI Conservatory Class of 1972 alumnus Frederick Elmes (BLUE VELVET, THE NIGHT OF) was awarded the 2017 Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal for his commitment to excellence in film and television.

Steve Martin and Martin Short opened the Tribute to Diane Keaton with a hilarious musical roast of the actress and her body of work.  The evening’s additional highlights included clips spanning her career and touching remarks and anecdotes from guests and presenters, with an emphasis on feminist spirit and empowerment.

The evening concluded with a surprise and rare appearance by Woody Allen, who presented the AFI Life Achievement Award to Keaton.


“The minute I met her, she was a great, great inspiration to me.  Much of what I’ve accomplished in my life, I owe for sure to her,” Allen said.  “This is a woman who is great at everything she does — actress, writer, photographer, director.”

Accepting the prestigious honor, Keaton concluded the evening by singing a rendition of “Seems Like Old Times,” the love theme from ANNIE HALL.

Building upon the evening’s theme of celebrating female artistry, the inaugural Audi Fellowship for Women, which will support the entire two-year AFI Conservatory enrollment for one promising female director, was spotlighted earlier at the event.  Audi, an enduring supporter of the motion picture arts, and of AFI for over 14 years, is now investing in the future of our dynamic community by expanding opportunities for female storytellers.  Natalie Camou, in attendance at the event, received the first-ever Fellowship, and will begin her journey as a Directing Fellow at the AFI Conservatory in August 2017.

A special moment was also taken to recognize AFI Conservatory alumna Patty Jenkins, whose WONDER WOMAN this past weekend garnered the biggest box-office opening ever for a female director.



Congratulations to AFI Conservatory Alumna Patty Jenkins

Posted by Larry Gleeson

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Director Patty Jenkins

Director Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN opened to critical and commercial acclaim as the biggest box-office opening for a female director ever. The American Film Institute congratulates Jenkins, an alumna of the AFI Conservatory Directing Class of 2000, on the success and global impact of WONDER WOMAN.

Before WONDER WOMAN, Jenkins wrote and directed the feature film MONSTER (2003), starring Charlize Theron. MONSTER was named Best First Feature by the 2004 Film Independent Spirit Awards and was an AFI AWARDS 2003 Official Selection. Theron received the Academy Award® for Best Actress. In 2004, AFI presented Jenkins with the 14th annual Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal.

Jenkins is among the women directors from AFI whose work in film includes ARRIVAL, AMERICAN HONEY and the upcoming MUDBOUND, and in television includes HOMELAND, I LOVE DICK, INSECURE, THE LEFTOVERS and UNREAL.

AFI is committed to addressing gender diversity in the industry: nearly half of the AFI Conservatory’s Directing Fellows are women. AFI’s pioneering program AFI Directing Workshop for Women has been putting more female filmmakers to work for more than 40 years.