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What is the American Film Institute?

Jessica Ellis
Updated: May 23, 2024

The American Film Institute (AFI) was founded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as part of the 1967 United States National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act. As a collaborative effort between the NEA, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Ford Foundation, AFI was created to encourage and preserve the production of film and media in America. The American Film Institute honors outstanding work in film and television each year, as well as maintaining the AFI conservatory, considered one of the best graduate film schools in the world.

From the beginning the American Film Institute has brought together some of the greatest names in American filmmaking. The original board of trustees included actors Gregory Peck and Sidney Poitier, and current trustees include Stephen Spielberg and Al Pacino. The conservatory at the American Film Institute has produced many famous movie professionals, such as directors Terrence Malick, Ed Zwick and Lesli Linka Glatter.

Working together, the members of AFI created the National Center for Film and Video Preservation, which works to restore and copy cinema classics that have deteriorated due to age, misuse and early recording techniques. The nonprofit organization also maintains the AFI Catalog of Films, one of the largest reference sources for filmographic information in the world.

Since 1973, the American Film Institute has given a Lifetime Achievement Award annually to a person they feel has significantly advanced the world of cinema or TV, and whose work has withstood time. The first recipient of the award was director John Ford, a four time Best Director Oscar winner. Other recipients have included James Stewart, Fred Astaire, Martin Scorsese and Meryl Streep.

One of the largest endeavors of the American Film Institute is their graduate conservatory. Out of thousands of applicants, approximately 28 students are accepted per year in each of six areas of specialty: screenwriting, directing, producing, cinematography, editing, and production design. The conservatory program stresses hands-on education, with student completing at least three short films per year. Many experts consider the AFI conservatory to be the among the best film schools in the world. Many graduates from the school have gone on to considerable fame and productive careers in the film industry.

In 1998, to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of American film, AFI began releasing of films called AFI 100 years…. The lists determined the best films, characters and moments of the past century through a large poll of film industry workers. The list has been updated as of 2007, but the top movie remains the 1941 drama Citizen Kane. Other AFI lists name Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn as the top stars of the century, and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

The goal of the American Film Institute is to promote film and television in every way possible. Through preservation efforts and presentations, the organization educates the film world about its past. Through film festivals such as the annual AFI Fest, they help to encourage present professionals. Most importantly, by training the next generation of filmmakers, AFI helps mold the future of film.

WiseTour is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseTour. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
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Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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