2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2000
LOST AMERICAN FILMS COME HOME
The ongoing heroic work in film preservation took on a renewed air of international cooperation in 2010 with the repatriation of 75 American silent films from the New Zealand Film Archive through the efforts of the National Film Preservation Foundation and an additional gift of 10 films from Gosfilmofond, the Russian state film archive, to the Library of Congress. These films were previously feared to be among the nearly 80% of American movies from the silent era that were deliberately discarded or lost due to decomposition and neglect.
This moment is significant not only for the global generosity shown by countries who have properly cared for these films, but it also reminds us of the power and reach of American film, even in its earliest days. These movies traveled the world to find an audience in theatres, and now return home to be preserved and distributed digitally through the five major American film archives: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
CONAN O'BRIEN TAKES THE HIGH ROAD
The prime-time/late night world righted itself in 2010 when THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO returned to late night and Conan O'Brien took his talents to TBS, where he launched a new show, CONAN.
The journey to this happy ending was far from happy, and in fact, has left the patina of THE TONIGHT SHOW with a tarnish in 2010. O'Brien, on the other hand, appears to have escaped what had become a public relations circus by touring the country in a sold-out comedy/music extravaganza and then returning to late night as a basic-cable maverick — looking to the future with his head (and hair) held high.
TELEVISION IN A POST "FAIRNESS DOCTRINE" SOCIETY
"News" and "entertainment" have long seen a blurring of the lines since the "Fairness Doctrine" was established in 1949, but in 2010, the two were often presented and seemingly accepted by the greater public as one.
Underscored in a year of American midterm elections, the year's "anything goes" attitude took a match to the paper-thin wall between politics and popular culture, best illustrated by the following events:
August 28 – Fox News commentator Glenn Beck held a rally in Washington, DC under the banner "Restoring Honor," and in response, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held a rally on October 30 called "The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear." Though more theatre than television, the medium inspired hundreds of thousands of people to march on the nation's capitol.
September 24 – Stephen Colbert testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee in character on the topic of immigration.
November 14 – Sarah Palin's ALASKA premiered on cable television. Packaged as a show that will bring "the wonder and majesty of Alaska to all Americans," it has also created an entirely new template for political campaigning.
November 23 – After nine weeks of consistently scoring poorly among the judges, Bristol Palin performed in the finals of DANCING WITH THE STARS. Week after week, the public vote launched Palin into the next round.
A GLOBAL EMBRACE – THE RESCUE OF THE CHILEAN MINERS
After holding its breath for 69 days, the world let out a collective cheer as the last of 33 trapped Chilean miners came above ground. A cave-in on August 5th left the men 2,300 feet below ground with dim hope for survival. During their ordeal, cameras went underground to show what life was like for these trapped folk heroes, and the wall-to-wall coverage of their final rescue illustrated the power of television to bring the world together as one — reality television for all the right reasons.
AVATAR – JAMES CAMERON'S MILEPOST IN THE EVOLUTION OF THE ART FORM
James Cameron's pioneering effort to unleash the human imagination was fully realized in 2009 with the release of AVATAR, a film that firmly established itself as a landmark in the way stories are told.
With an army of technological wizards at his side, writer/director/producer/co-editor Cameron called upon the forces of art and technology to create new tools for storytelling that are groundbreaking in both scope and scale.
The magic of the motion picture — and the transfer of its power to television and now video games — has always found its truest power in its immersive qualities, and with Cameron's advances in CGI (computer-generated images) and 3-D, AVATAR enters AFI's almanac as an achievement that will have profound effects on the future of the art form.
TWITTER: THE NEW WATERCOOLER
Twitter, the Internet platform for messages of up to 140 characters, has become a powerful force in the worlds of film and television. It has long been proven that the most effective way to attract an audience is through "word of mouth," and Twitter allows for these influential conversations to be immediate and international.
Twitter has also created new and direct channels of communication for artists to speak directly to their fan base. Most notably, in 2009, Ashton Kutcher enlisted over one million followers to his "tweets."
In marketing terms, Twitter and other forms of social networking have allowed motion pictures and television programs the opportunity to both expand and unite their audiences. For example, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY became a cultural sensation in 2009 for mastering "word of mouth" marketing via social networks, in addition to telling a terrifying tale very well. In television, Twitter helped to ensure "appointment television" by creating venues for viewers to comment on shows as they aired. For example, GLEE employed Twitter to broaden its fan base of "Gleeks."
THE LENO EXPERIMENT AND THE LOSS OF DRAMA
On September 14, 2009, NBC premiered THE JAY LENO SHOW, a reformatted version of THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO, to run Monday through Friday at 10:00 p.m.
As a result, five hours traditionally reserved for episodic drama were dropped from the broadcast television landscape. The move had a harsh effect in job losses for the creative ensembles whose stories were told at that time, and also among national affiliate stations whose ratings for 11:00 p.m. local news programs dropped significantly.
This experiment can be viewed as another chapter in the evolution of television to less expensive programming, which began in force with the emergence of reality television. However, audiences have found quality dramas moving in force to cable and pay cable television, and the world awaits the first breakout drama scripted for the Internet.
REALITY TV AND THE LOSS OF BOUNDARIES
Reality television crossed a line in 2009 as the cultural craving for celebrity moved in a dangerous new direction. Most significantly, the "characters" now referred to as "Balloon Boy" and "Octomom," in addition to a couple who allegedly infiltrated the White House to attend a state dinner, have marked the year as one in which the health and welfare of our citizens should be considered before the standards and practices of television.
THE END OF ANALOG AND OTHER SIGNS OF SEA CHANGE
On June 12, 2009, analog television switched off, and the digital revolution saw a new day. This moment is mostly symbolic, but signaled further change across many former television traditions:
• Several long-running soap operas were cancelled in 2009. GUIDING LIGHT, the longest-running drama in television and radio history, aired its final episode on September 18, 2009. The program began in 1937, during the second Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was also announced that AS THE WORLD TURNS, a daytime staple since 1956, would air its last episode on September 10, 2010. The demise of the soap opera can be linked to the omnipresent melodrama presented in news, reality and other programs that are now available instantaneously, around the clock and on many platforms.
• Long-form television became more scarce in 2009. While excellent programs like GREY GARDENS, INTO THE STORM and PRAYERS FOR BOBBY proved there was still quality work being done in the field, the fragmentation of the television audience strained the economics of the old business model for TV movies and mini-series.
Other notable moments in the sea of change include Comcast's bid to acquire NBC Universal to ensure content for distribution to its more than 23 million subscribers, as well as the continued rise in the reliance of DVRs (digital video recorders) so that audiences have shows when and where they wish to view them.
2009 – A YEAR OF EXTRAORDINARY ANIMATION
Though animation has been a genre of great impact since the dawn of the moving image, 2009 marked a year that saw a dazzling explosion of noteworthy work from many of the nation's finest artists, and in forms vast and varied — from classic hand-drawn stories like THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG; to stop-motion splendors like CORALINE and FANTASTIC MR. FOX; to computer-generated creations like UP, 9, CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS and MONSTERS VS. ALIENS.
THIS IS IT – DEATH OF MICHAEL JACKSON
Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009. One of the most influential entertainers in modern day, Jackson's death was met with a worldwide expression of grief.
In the months that followed his death, Jackson's talents were celebrated on-line, with a renewed interest in the musical and video gifts he had given the world over five decades; on television, as millions tuned in for his memorial and funeral services; and, most notably, in theatres, with the film THIS IS IT, a documentary crafted from the rehearsal footage for an upcoming concert tour. The film proved an unprecedented global eulogy for fans and friends of the "King of Pop."
RECESSION – THE MOVIES AGAIN PROVE A TONIC FOR ECONOMIC AILS
Just as Americans flocked to musicals and screwball comedies during the Great Depression of the 1930s, audiences in 2009 escaped their worries by going to the movies. Though total admissions do not compare, it is worthy to note that in the world's darkest economic time since the Depression, American films grossed more money than any time in the history of the art form. Aliens, vampires and wizards may have replaced Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on the silver screen, but the movies still provide joy and refuge in a story well told.
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE – A CELEBRATION OF THE GLOBAL FILM
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE stands as a monument to the possibilities of cross-cultural storytelling. Danny Boyle's masterwork is rooted in the worlds of Dickens and Dumas but captures their spirit with a visual and narrative splendor that serves as a cinematic passport to a vibrant, modern India. A love story at its core, the film is also a powerful reminder that our global obsession with money leaves many of the world's children in need.
Also of significance, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is a signpost in America's search for greater authenticity in its stories. Subtitles — once an inconvenience to American audiences-are now expected and, in fact, demanded to confirm the universality of our daily, global experience.
Other films that reflect this cultural shift include GRAN TORINO, THE VISITOR, AUSTRALIA and television's HEROES.
TELEVISION AND NEW TECHNOLOGIES PROVIDE A GLOBAL ORACLE FOR AMERICA'S PRESIDENTIAL RACE
America's historic presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain mesmerized a global audience like a long-running television series. Television and Web coverage played to each other's strengths, as every nuance of the long, arduous campaigns was accessible for public celebration and scrutiny.
During this process, Obama not only won the election, but also took his place among those statesmen-from FDR's "Fireside Chats" on radio to JFK's telegenic performances in debates and news conferences-whose mastery of a new medium captured the public imagination.
Obama harnessed the power of the Internet for both messaging and fundraising, communicating with e-mails, online videos and social networking. His campaign crescendoed with a 30-minute infomercial that was transmitted simultaneously over several broadcast networks and cable channels in the closing days of the campaign.
New technology also helped to engage American citizens at unprecedented levels, most notably with CNN's "Magic Map," which brought a greater understanding of the electoral process to a new generation.
NBC COVERAGE OF SUMMER OLYMPICS BRINGS THE WORLD TOGETHER
For 17 days in August, NBC marshaled the forces of today's technology to beam the spectacle of the 29th Summer Olympics from Beijing, China, to screens around the world. NBC supplemented their coverage on television with over 2,000 hours of video on-line, creating an immersive media experience that celebrated diverse cultures, as well as each country's place in a larger, global community.
The Opening Ceremony, directed and staged by acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, marked the most significant live event of the year-one staged with breathtaking pageantry and poetry. The Opening Ceremony was seen by nearly 2 billion viewers worldwide, with 70 million viewers in the United States-a record American audience for an Olympics on foreign soil.
AFI salutes the athletes from around the world that inspire audiences to reach for more-and to NBC, for capturing this historic event with such glory and grandeur, making us all players in these global games.
"AGE OF ANXIETY" AS BUSINESS MODELS FOR THE ARTS EVOLVE
Though the Writers Guild of America ended its strike in February, the tension between artists and executives continues. The one certainty in these uncertain times is that the film and television communities continue to redefine their business models for the digital age.
A significant moment in the evolution of content delivery was NBC and News Corp's launch of Hulu, the first popular effort to present premium content in a user-friendly, no-fee, on-line exhibition experience.
Seismic shifts in the television advertising model included NBC's announcement that THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO would be moving to prime time, marking a dramatic reduction of drama on network television. Meanwhile, narrative fiction on cable television continues to grow and flourish. And in a new twist, DIRECTV-a distributor-funded a third season of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, an hour-long high-quality drama supported by an ardent fan base too small for network television.
With the historic downturn in the American economy, these issues weigh even greater than ever-as America looks to the worlds of film, television and digital media for entertainment.
TINA FEY — AMERICA'S FIRST LADY OF LAUGHS
Tina Fey made the world laugh in 2008-an immeasurable gift in a year marked by ongoing war and an historic economic downturn.
Fey's impersonation of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin served as a lightning rod for laughs when she appeared on the season premiere of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. As America entered the final months of a long and heated campaign, Fey captivated the country with the wink of an eye.
In addition to regular appearances as Palin on SNL, Fey also continued to serve as writer, producer and star of 30 ROCK, a weekly testament to her talents as America's first lady of laughs.
INDEPENDENT FILM ARTISTS FACE DISTRIBUTION CRISIS
2008 marked a year when many of the independent film divisions created by the studios-Paramount Vantage, New Line, Warner Independent and Picturehouse-were closed or folded back into their parent corporations.
Despite the unprecedented availability of filmmaking tools and the explosion of opportunity in on-line exhibition, the challenge for independent voices in American film is perhaps greater than ever. Now, an artist outside the studio system must also master finance and distribution to have their stories told.
This moment is best illustrated in 2008 by BALLAST — by writer/editor/producer/director Lance Hammer. When the heralded film struggled to find an audience through traditional means, Hammer took the movie back from the distributor and embarked on his own campaign to market the film.
FILM CRITICS LOSE VOICE
In 2008, many of the ardent voices of film criticism were silenced. Full-time posts at Time, Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice and Newsday, among others, were eliminated as the circulation of newspapers and magazines declined. As a result, writing about film has moved to the Web-a world where authority can be lost among the voice of the masses.
AFI celebrates the global community of film lovers interacting on-line, but also encourages these conversations to honor and appreciate historical context in addition to personal opinion.
The year also marked the passing of iconoclastic film critic Manny Farber. Farber was a champion of genres overlooked by many critics-crime, westerns and horror films-whose raw energy he admired. Among the publications in which his words appeared were The Nation, The New Republic and Film Comment.
DR. HORRIBLE OPERATES IN EXPLOSION OF SHORT FORM
In 2008, director/writer Joss Whedon's DR. HORRIBLE'S SING-ALONG BLOG was released as three 13-minute webisodes and quickly became a cult hit. The films mark another moment in the evolution of established artists presenting short films on-line-pioneered last year by Will Ferrell's THE LANDLORD.
This movement was catalyzed in part by the Writers Guild strike of 2007, when artists from film and television came together in greater numbers to express themselves in the short form, an integral part of the moving-image experience since the dawn of cinema.
THE WRITERS GUILD STRIKE — ADDRESSING STORYTELLING IN THE DIGITAL FUTURE
The ongoing digital revolution has upended conventional economic models, and uncertainty abounds when attempting to project how an audience will receive its storytelling in the years to come and how creators will be paid for their work.
On November 5, the 12,000-plus members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Though the strike is itself traumatic, it is but a part of a larger paradigm shift. At best, it may be a defining event in shaping the future.
AFI looks forward to the day when a new business model will form, and an artist's work will rise above the numbers and continue to inform and inspire us all.
BERGMAN AND ANTONIONI — THE END OF AN ERA
Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, two of the world's most influential filmmakers, both passed away on July 30.
Bergman directed more than 50 films in a career that spanned 40 years. Classics like THE SEVENTH SEAL, WILD STRAWBERRIES, CRIES AND WHISPERS and PERSONA explore religion, death and existentialism with an unflinching honesty and eloquence.
Antonioni's career also spanned more than 40 years, with landmark films like L'AVVENTURA, BLOWUP, LA NOTTE and THE PASSENGER, each marked by the director's innovative approach to narrative storytelling.
Bergman and Antonioni were artists emblematic of an era--a time when audiences around the world sought out a challenging cinematic experience. The unique personal and artistic vision of these towering figures catalyzed conversations long after moviegoers left the theater and continues to inspire a generation of artists today.
iPHONE — SYMBOL OF THE EXPLODING ON-DEMAND CULTURE
Apple unveiled the iPhone in 2007, sparking a cultural frenzy. In addition to operating as a phone, camera and computer, the user-friendly iPhone allows consumers to stream and download television programs and movies. Overnight, the iPhone became a symbol of a public that demands its content where they want it and when they want it.
"WAR ON TERROR" CREATES CULTURAL SPASM
2007 marked a year when American film artists responded to the war in an attempt to create order out of chaos. Though it was largely difficult to find an audience for their stories, filmmakers marched forward in a struggle to understand — to ask questions — to demand answers.
Films like IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, LIONS FOR LAMBS, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, GRACE IS GONE, A MIGHTY HEART, THE KITE RUNNER and REDACTED all wrestled with the war directly. And this emotional quandary carried into the core of other films as well — the dark brutality of THERE WILL BE BLOOD and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, and the moral questions raised by MICHAEL CLAYTON also reflect our country's bruised and brooding times.
No other American war has inspired this deep a cinematic expression while the conflict is still taking place. Films released during World War II were supportive of the war effort, but movies dealing with the emotional, psychological and societal impact of that war, and also Korea and Vietnam, weren't produced until years after they had ended.
Part of this new immediacy is due to the accessibility of information from the front line. Whether from an embedded journalist or an Iraqi citizen posting photos on the Internet, news about the war is plentiful, direct and personal, arriving virtually the same day it happens. Given these images and information, filmmakers are driven to make sense of it all here and now and project their stories across America and around the world.
PLANET EARTH — LANDMARK PROGRAMMING IN HIGH DEFINITION
On March 24, the Discovery Channel presented PLANET EARTH, an 11-part series that illuminated the power of television as a unifying force in our global community and reminded viewers that, despite our differences, we all share the precious gifts of our planet.
Over five years in the making, PLANET EARTH captured breathtaking images from more than 60 countries and over 200 locations. From the forests of Eastern Russia to the Gomantong Caves in Borneo to a volcanic mountain chain at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, this epic visual document captured some of the world's most remote and awe-inspiring locations and brought them into the living room.
That the series came to life in high definition crystallized a moment in the public appreciation for this welcome and wondrous technology.
THE HYPER-TABLOIDIZATION OF TV "NEWS"
2007 marked a year when traditional news became subsumed by coverage of material normally relegated to tabloid magazines.
Coverage of Paris, Nicole, Lindsay, Britney, O.J. and Anna Nicole often eclipsed news on the war, an economy in turmoil or topics of international scope or scale.
Websites like TMZ.com and PerezHilton.com attracted devoted audiences, with TMZ even spawning a half-hour television version of its Internet activity. These types of sites are fueled by the ubiquity of cell phone cameras and other recording devices that empower a "citizen paparazzi" who are aggressive and eager partners in helping to tear down pop idols.
America's cultural obsession with scandal is not a new trend, but in 2007 the tide turned, and the nation began to drown in a sea of celebrity.
SUMMER ON CABLE REDEFINES YEAR-ROUND PROGRAMMING
In 2007, basic cable television exploded with new and inventive shows that created a seismic shift in America's viewing habits. Summer is traditionally the season when television is dominated by reruns, but this year audiences enjoyed the premieres of DAMAGES, ARMY WIVES, SAVING GRACE, BURN NOTICE, MAD MEN and THE STARTER WIFE, and of particular note, HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 2, which attracted over 17 million viewers for its premiere.
Combined with these new forces in narrative fiction, cable also offered a variety of reality and documentary programs, including PLANET EARTH, MAN VS. WILD, ICE ROAD TRUCKERS, DOG THE BOUNTY HUNTER, MEERKAT MANOR and DEADLIEST CATCH.
When the avalanche of summer options met the traditional fall premiere of network offerings, the question arose — "Is there a TV season anymore?"
CLINT EASTWOOD-A NATIONAL TREASURE
Clint Eastwood released two major motion pictures in 2006. This is a significant achievement alone, but that FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA tell the story of the same battle in World War II while presenting the points of view of the opposing sides marks a moment of significance for post 9/11 cinema.
The films not only complement one another, but they resonate together to create one of the great motion picture experiences of the new century.
Eastwood and his team of collaborators — including producers Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz, writer Paul Haggis, cinematographer Tom Stern, editor Joel Cox, production designer Henry Bumstead and casting director Phyllis Huffman — provide an epic reminder that the American viewpoint is not the only human perspective.
THE DOCUMENTARY SPEAKS TO THE WORLD
In 2006, it was the documentary that best illustrated the power of film and television to bring us together as a global audience-and, with hope, to affect change.
In theatres, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH premiered in the United States and began a journey around the world, raising the level of debate about global warming. Directed by Davis Guggenheim and starring former Vice President Al Gore, this documentary presents the argument that we can no longer afford to look at the effects of greenhouse gasses as a political issue, but we must see it as a moral one.
Also of note is IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS, a film by director James Longley, who documented the experience of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds in war-torn Iraq.
In television, WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE sets the standard for documentaries that fuse epic scope and human detail. Spike Lee's masterwork about the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans revitalized the debate about what it is to be abandoned by your government. BAGHDAD ER and COMBAT HOSPITAL also stand out among the year's best documentaries, exhibiting a texture and depth that is necessary to understand their complex issues.
YOUTUBE REDEFINES "THE TUBE"
Though audience participation continues to have an enormous impact on television, with cultural hits like DANCING WITH THE STARS and AMERICAN IDOL reliant on interactivity, the true cultural phenomenon for 2006 is the dawn of a new era of participatory television — via the personal computer.
The explosive growth and domination of YouTube as the pre-eminent site for uploading, viewing and sharing video clips on the World Wide Web signifies the awakening of an age when the audience is both producer and distributor.
The impact of self-produced media is currently most profound as it relates to documenting events of the day that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Cell phones and video cameras capture police brutality, racial slurs and other events that are then "broadcast" around the world. Most notably for 2006, George Allen, a front-runner in the Virginia Senate race, referred to a man of Indian descent as "macaca" and the footage was first seen around the world on YouTube. It was one of several issues that Allen's campaign struggled to control, and he lost the race.
TV NEWS MIGRATES TO THE INTERNET...AND FROM FACT TO FICTION
2006 marked a year when network and cable news became far less significant in the echo chamber of the Internet, and the fusion of journalism and comedy continued to impact the political scene.
The flashpoint for this moment took place when Stephen Colbert, star of THE COLBERT REPORT on Comedy Central, was the featured speaker at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Colbert's routine, performed in character as his faux-politically conservative news anchor, roasted President George W. Bush and his administration's policies as the President sat a few feet away, and the entire room appeared uncomfortable.
Colbert's performance aired on C-SPAN, but became an Internet sensation, providing a defining shift in the way the 2006 midterm elections were perceived and discussed by a younger generation.
VHS IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE DIGITAL FUTURE
2006 marks the end of production of the VHS cassette-and with its passing, the term "Be Kind, Rewind" is erased from the American lexicon.
Released to the consumer market in 1976 by JVC, the VHS format transformed the way the world watched the movies and, because of its popularity, changed the way movies were made and marketed.
2006 is also a watershed year in the way motion pictures are distributed to consumers. Theatrical experiments continue — Steven Soderbergh's BUBBLE became the first motion picture released in theatres the same day it was available on HDTV and four days later on DVD. And Morgan Freeman's ClickStar, a joint venture between Intel and Freeman's Revelations production company, released 10 ITEMS OR LESS, the first feature film to premiere in theatres and then become available via broadband within two weeks of its national release.
The legal market for digital downloading became a reality in 2006 as full-length feature films are now available via cellular phones, Internet sites and through special DVD agreements with retail stores. The field continues to be lead by iTunes, which offers hundreds of television episodes and select movie titles.
Though the economic viability of these models is uncertain, their collective direction marks a moment when a global audience enjoys unprecedented access to the movies.
HAVE YOU NO SHAME? TELEVISION SAYS YES.
2006 marked a moment when what didn't air on television was as compelling as what did.
When FOX announced that it was to broadcast an interview with O.J. Simpson, who would hypothetically detail how he would have killed his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, the decisive outcry from the audience, affiliates and advertisers caused FOX to cancel the broadcast.
The cancellation showed that a moral standard still exists for television, albeit a limit that had to be pushed to an extreme to be of note. That it was self-regulated, however, and not legislated by the government, is cause to celebrate.
NETWORKS FIGHT BACK
The pendulum of America's dialogue on free speech swung back in 2006 as ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and several of their affiliates filed a challenge to a Federal Communications Commission ruling that cited several incidents of "indecent" language.
This represented a rare galvanizing moment for the television community, which sees the FCC's rulings, penalties and fines as vague and inconsistent and has asked the agency to provide a clear definition of its terms of indecency.
ROBERT ALTMAN — 1925–2006
Robert Altman passed away in 2006 at the age of 81. In a career that spanned over 50 years, Altman was a true maverick of American film. His body of work — both in film and television — reflects an exceptional diversity in genre, but always with his indelible signature. From overlapping dialogue to the epic ensemble pieces filled with actors who revered him, Altman's style continues to inspire artists and audiences alike. AFI will ensure that his films will live forever — M*A*S*H, NASHVILLE, McCABE AND MRS. MILLER, THE PLAYER, GOSFORD PARK and many more.
2005 MARKED BY CONTINUING CONSOLIDATION
And then there were six.
The film community continues to consolidate as both Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a force in
American entertainment since 1924 and, in many regards, a symbol for the golden
age of Hollywood, and DreamWorks, the youngest film and television studio, were
bought by larger corporations.
Both MGM and DreamWorks were founded by movie mavericks — from Louis B. Mayer
to Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, & David Geffen — and AFI hopes that this
trend for consolidation will respect the rich history that marks our cultural legacy and
encourage the creative spirit that drives the art form.
MOVIES AND TELEVISION PICTURE A POST 9/11 WORLD
2005 marked a fully found artistic reaction to 9/11 and the new realities created in
its wake. Art not only has the ability to expose the complexities of the changed world
we live in, but also to provide a unifying voice for a country trying to heal while still
On television, shows like 24, SLEEPER CELL, RESCUE 9/11 and BATTLESTAR
GALACTICA all dramatize terrorism, heroism and the struggle to find a common
In theatres, the movies explored these themes in ways that effected audiences
physically, intellectually and emotionally: Steven Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS
viscerally moved and terrified audiences with invaders from another world. George
Clooney's GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK celebrated the challenge and bravery
of independent journalists. THE MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, a French documentary
that chronicled the journey of emperor penguins in Antarctica, proved the surprise hit
of the year for its universal message — the need to be part of a community that cares
for each other.
THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE IN CRISIS
At the dawn of American film, there was magic in the moviegoing experience.
Strangers came together in the dark and were awed by images of light and a story
Over the first century of American film, great strides were made in this collective
experience — ongoing technological leaps in sound, color and projection. But in
2005, it became apparent that a steady downward trend in the experience was a
harsh reality, and, in fact, that moviegoing might be at risk.
The reasons for this are vast and varied, including:
- the dramatically increased competition for leisure time from other
entertainments that can be delivered on-demand;
- the improvement of home entertainment technologies;
- the rise in video games, where an immersive experience is also interactive;
- the increased availability of motion pictures via illegal downloads or bootleg
The coming years will bring new technologies to movie theatres, and AFI hopes that
all parties will come together — distributors, exhibitors and patrons — to appreciate the
value of the communal experience...at a theatre near you.
TV BREAKS OUT OF THE BOX
The exodus became official in 2005 as television content migrated to multiple screen platforms. Most notably:
- Apple Computer introduced a new video iPod in concert with a content
distribution deal with ABC that made LOST and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES
available for download. Later, NBC Universal announced a deal to deliver
more than 300 episodes from prime time, cable, late-night and classic TV
shows via iPod.
- Twentieth Century Fox premiered a serial drama created specifically for
cellular phones based on its television drama 24. The 24 one-minute long
"mobisodes" — short for "mobile episode" — are based on the series.
- Time Warner and AOL announced the creation of a new broadband
network — named In2TV — that allows on-demand access to thousands of
episodes of classic television shows via the Internet.
In the wake of the popularity of digital video recorders, these technological
breakthroughs meet the consumers' needs for content on demand, but also move the
receipt of visual storytelling more dramatically toward an isolated experience, to the point where watercooler phenomena may soon be a term of the past.
TELEVISION AND HURRICANE KATRINA/DISASTER
Hurricane Katrina decimated America's Gulf Coast, and television brought images of American suffering to the world — images that revealed the existence of an underclass not often seen on television and exposed the world's most powerful country in a deeply sad and unfavorable light.
In the days that followed, television was not a complacent reporter, but an active participant in the rescue and clean up. When it appeared that local, state and national governments could not respond in a timely manner to the needs of those in
trouble, television put a spotlight on the contradictions between what officials were
reporting and the images viewers' were seeing in their living rooms. Reminiscent of
television's coverage of the 1968 Democratic Convention, this forged a new
relationship between television and its audience.
The coverage of the hurricane also brought to light the limitations of the medium,
where misinformation is embraced as truth and the rush to judgment is fueled by
images and words out of context.
Ultimately, the coverage was a testimony to the power of television, to bring us
together as a nation, ask difficult questions and offer solutions.
CONVERGENCE COMES OF AGE
America Online's exclusive on-line coverage of the multi-city Live 8 concert proved a
seismic moment in global access to live events, a role that has evolved from radio to
television and, now, to the Internet.
Over five million viewers logged on to the AOL Live 8 site, drawing a larger audience
than MTV and ABC's primetime highlights special, which averaged 2.9 millions
viewers. Additionally, in the following week, there were over 25 million on-demand
plays of different performances from the concert.
The event has demonstrated how the Internet allows a breadth and depth of coverage
not possible through traditional television broadcasting. On the day of the concert,
fans could switch between events, see live updates, access full artist information, and
share views with fellow fans. After the event, audiences could relive it on
demand--watching what they want, when they want it.
Technically, it's of note that AOL provided the largest number of simultaneous video
streams in the history of the Internet without a single break, instilling a level of trust in
the consumer that is essential in the migration from one technology to another.
MOVIES INSPIRE NATIONAL DEBATE
In 2004, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST and FAHRENHEIT 9/11 reminded the nation of the power of film. Both films transcended the art form, catalyzing a national debate on theology and politics.
Each film was a personal crusade, with Mel Gibson serving as writer/director/producer of THE PASSION and Michael Moore serving as writer/director/producer of FAHRENHEIT. Both filmmakers tossed Hollywood convention out the window, attracting masses to the movies that would normally not purchase a ticket to an ultra-violent subtitled film or a documentary.
Ultimately, both films shone a bright light on the political and religious polarization in the United States in 2004.
"TARNATION" AND FILM'S AFFORDABLE TOOLS
Jean Cocteau once said, "Film will only become art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper."
In 2004, the accessibility to affordable tools for the art form was brilliantly dramatized by the Cannes Film Festival's acceptance and enthusiasm for TARNATION, a film made for $218.
Director Jonathan Caouette received standing ovations for his documentary, a self-portrait about growing up with a mentally ill mother. He edited the film from home movies, photographs and other materials on his personal computer.
The direction is not only one for independent filmmakers, as the filmmakers who created Paramount's SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW used desktop Macintosh computers to create the film's 2000 effects shots.
This movement is encouraging and will further solidify the moving image as the language of the 21st century.
CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF TELEVISION NEWS
2004 saw the final broadcasts of veteran newscasters Tom Brokaw, Barbara Walters and Bill Moyers, the retirement of 60 MINUTES creator Don Hewitt and the news that Dan Rather would leave his anchor seat in 2005.
The loss of this generation of journalists raises questions about the long-term viability of evening news broadcasts, which have been suffering from declining ratings for years, due to 24-hour news channels and immediate access to news via the Internet.
It also illustrates a more significant and worrisome trend — the drastic change in how news is packaged and presented via television. Gone are the days when Walter Cronkite read the news with a voice of authoritative integrity. Today's newscasters are more personalities than journalists, and the landscape has become one of "niche news," where viewers tune in to hear information that is skewed to a particular political agenda, not a public agenda. Audiences choose a report and reporter that agrees with their point of view, and ultimately, makes them comfortable.
The networks and all news outlets should strive to present many sides of the complex issues in today's world, and the viewing public should be reminded that part of the responsibility in finding the truth is their own.
FINAL DOMINO FALLS IN VERTICAL INTEGRATION OF FILM AND TV
On May 12, NBC and Universal merged to become NBC Universal, signaling the final stage of vertical re-integration in the entertainment industry.
This trend has proven cyclical, beginning with the Paramount Decree of 1949, which was designed to prevent monopolistic practices in the film community by prohibiting the studios from owning theater chains. Fifty-five years later, 2004 sees a landscape where studios, networks, theater chains, music labels and home video departments are integrated to serve and support each other.
The effects of this culmination will be felt in all areas of the creative community, where "event films" have become necessary to build a bridge between all corporate constituents. The independent film scene continues to flourish in large part because the tools have become more affordable, but what has been lost is the middle ground, where studios support films that can entertain a vast audience with different interests, which is what makes this country so unique.
THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART
Jon Stewart and the creative team at THE DAILY SHOW have been well awarded for their daily pseudo-news broadcast, but in this year of the presidential election, their impact on the national conversation grew beyond television.
The show's impact on younger Americans is particularly significant. As it deconstructs the news cycle each night in its humor, THE DAILY SHOW provides a master class in critical analysis, forcing us to question how the news is presented on other channels.
It would be sad to document that one of the best sources of news today is a faux news show, if Jon Stewart and his creative team didn't do it so well.
COMEDY REDEFINED...FOR THE MOMENT
FRASIER, FRIENDS and SEX AND THE CITY all aired their final episodes in 2004. Combined, the three sitcoms gave America 27 seasons of comedy — FRASIER ran for 11 years, FRIENDS for 10 years, and SEX IN THE CITY for six years.
With EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND ending its nine-year run next year, THE SIMPSONS will be the only situation comedy institution left on television.
Comedy has not left the airwaves, though; it thrives in late night television with Jay Leno and David Letterman, on cable in the form of CHAPPELLE'S SHOW and on the networks it has found a new home in less traditional places, like the dark halls of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and the courtroom drama BOSTON LEGAL.
TV THINKS OUTSIDE THE BOX
A second wave of convergence has begun to impact the world of television as content is packaged for distribution across multiple platforms.
Of note in 2004:
– The premiere of the pilot for the WB's JACK AND BOBBY aired in its entirety over the Internet before the broadcast premiere.
– The success of television programs on DVD has reshaped the economics of television.
– The market for video games-where players gather around their television sets — exploded in 2004, suggesting a new dimension for television, where the viewer is the star of the program.
For those who wonder if the day is near when consumers will own a Dick Tracy TV watch, the answer is, "Yes" and so much more.
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION AS CULTURAL FORCE
The Federal Communications Commission became a programming power in 2004.
The government's voice in what is suitable for the airwaves is not a new concept, but the staggering rate at which the threat of it grew during the year has had a profound effect on television. Unsure of how the FCC will rule on an issue, the creative community has begun to self-censor their shows, a disturbing trend in a country founded on free expression.
The flashpoint for this moment of significance was in January, during Janet Jackson's and Justin Timberlake's live Super Bowl halftime performance, when Jackson's breast was exposed to a global audience during a sexually explicit dance routine.
In September, the FCC fined 20 TV stations the maximum penalty for indecency and the result has been a chilling effect on all aspects of television-production, advertising and distribution.
As a prime example, on Veterans Day, several ABC affiliates refused to air Steven Spielberg's SAVING PRIVATE RYAN in an unedited form for fear they would be fined by the FCC. Most of the stations that pulled the film had aired it unedited to commemorate Veterans Day in 2001 and 2002.
MARLON BRANDO, 1924 - 2004
On July 1, acting legend Marlon Brando passed away at the age of 80.
The art of screen acting has two chapters-"Before Brando" and "After Brando." Though Stanislavski created "method acting," it was Brando who showed the world its power. His raw, hypnotic energy created screen characters that will live forever in the annals of film history:
Stanley Kowalski in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951)
Johnny Strabler in THE WILD ONE (1953)
Terry Malloy in ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)
Sky Masterson in GUYS AND DOLLS (1955)
Don Vito Corleone in THE GODFATHER (1972)
Paul in LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972)
Colonel Kurtz in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
PIRACY ISSUE ACHIEVES CRITICAL MASS
The crucial moment has arrived for motion picture makers as the threat of piracy has begun to affect decision-making at every level of the process-production, distribution, exhibition and marketing.
How the industry will combat the global threat of illegal copying and swapping of movies is yet to be seen, but with the troubled music business as a model, film studios have made this issue a priority.
At stake is the future of the motion picture as we know it.
AMERICA'S EYE ON QUEER EYE
Bravo's QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY captured the nation's fancy each week as five gay men known as the "The Fab Five" provided a make-over to a straight man in each of their respective expertise: fashion, food, interior design, grooming and culture.
QUEER EYE brought gay culture to the national fore by spoofing and celebrating stereotypes, and unlike other reality shows, it did so in a winning and genuine manner that developed a bond between the gay and straight men.
Its impact proved far-reaching, effectively changing the meaning of the word "queer" by bringing it into the vernacular in a positive light.
It also broke broadcast barriers as the show's popularity encouraged NBC, Bravo's parent company, to air the show for its more mainstream audience.
TWO TICKETS, PLEASE...TO A DOCUMENTARY
2003 marked the emergence of a new trend in exhibition in which people who go to the multiplex for entertainment have the opportunity to choose documentaries.
Old barriers between non-fiction and fiction films have fallen in part because of the narrative intensity and unique subject matters of such films as WINGED MIGRATION, SPELLBOUND and CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS.
EMBEDDED REPORTERS IN IRAQ WAR
Television reporters who wish to cover the war in Iraq must now comply by rules provided by the United States Government.
This double edged sword provides the American public a real-time view of the war, but also threatens the purity of a news voice by requiring reporters to shape their view of the war as the government mandates they experience it.
AMERICAN FILM GIANTS PASS ON INTO THE FLICKERING LIGHT
In 2003, America said goodbye to several movie legends: Gregory Peck, Katharine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Elia Kazan, Art Carney, Stan Brackage, Donald O'Connor. The cumulative effect of these dimming stars is a forceful reminder that a generation has passed. It is AFI's mission to preserve and protect their film legacies, but the institute also looks to the future to see who in time, if anyone, will take their place.
REALITY OWNS THE WATERCOOLER
Reality programming continues to capture the fascination of viewers across America. From the rise and fall of JOE MILLIONAIRE to TRISTA AND RYAN'S WEDDING, viewers are attracted to the idea of unscripted television, even though the number of writers and story editors on "reality shows" continues to increase. Interestingly, this type of programming is among the least recorded by VCRs and TiVo, suggesting that an added value to the viewer is the ability to share the experience the next day with family and friends.
DIGITAL REVOLUTION CONTINUUM
The availability and relative affordability of the tools to make movies has more filmmakers doing so in their homes and away from Hollywood.
In 2003, this trend is personified by multi-hyphenate Robert Rodriguez, who created two mainstream films from the comfort of his personal studio in Texas. The success of both ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO and SPY KIDS 3-D will provide more power to people who own their tools and hopefully open the door for other voices.
ERA OF TELEVISION PASSES WITH FRED ROGERS
Known to generations of people around the world as "Mr. Rogers," Fred McFeely Rogers passed away in 2003. Rogers' death is emblematic of the end of an era, one where children's television was a new tool for learning.
Mr. Rogers was a unique figure who had a one-on-one relationship with his audience, teaching children tolerance and understanding for people not like them. Rogers was also notable for the measured and mannered way he presented information to children.
Rogers served as star, writer, composer, puppeteer and producer of MISTER ROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD since its initial broadcast in 1968, making it the longest-running program on public television. The show's library of nearly 900 episodes continues to be seen around the country.
WAR OF WORDS
Television provides a window on a world where an increased lack of civility in political discourse and commentary are threatening to undermine creative freedoms. People with opposing views no longer discuss and debate, but instead, destroy.
This is notable in news talk shows where commentators shout over each other to prove their point; in television programming, where a movie about former President Ronald Reagan found unfavor among a vocal group who demanded it not be aired on network television; and in the movie world, where Mel Gibson's film THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is being damned by many groups who have not yet seen it.
Differences of opinion should be embraced in this nation and discussion should be encouraged to explore all sides of an issue, for only then will our nation truly be able to find its voice and, ultimately, its cultural legacy.
DVD IN/VHS OUT
The sale of DVDs surpassed VHS sales for the first time in 2002. In addition to signaling the desire by consumers for quality picture and sound, the enormous success of DVD inspires filmmakers and studios to invest time, effort and money in presenting additional materials for films old and new. The access to these materials represents a significant step in film education for both the general public and scholars.
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING
Originally developed by Nia Vardalos as a one-woman stage show, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING became a word-of-mouth phenomena and went on to become both the highest-grossing independent film of all time and, more significantly, the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time. Miss Vardalos adapted the screenplay from her play and starred in the film. Without the benefit of a major marketing and advertising campaign, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING provides a reminder that the public is the ultimate arbiter of what makes good entertainment.
CRISIS IN TV JOURNALISM
As television news has become a larger profit center for network and cable channels, an intensely competitive environment has increased the tendency to blur the line between news/commentary, news/entertainment and news/advocacy on all channels. AFI hopes that television will find a solution that will better serve the public interest, but in the interim, reminds audiences that the responsibility to seek an objective opinion is more difficult to find on a single channel.
Fox's AMERICAN IDOL brought an old-fashioned concept into the new century when young amateurs from around the nation competed for the title of "American Idol." Founded in a television concept that can be traced back to Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, which ran on CBS from 1948 to 1958, the slickly packaged summer series swept the nation with the notion that the American dream is still alive for young, talented performers.
WOMEN LEAD ALL FOUR GUILDS
When Martha Coolidge became the first female president of the Directors Guild of America on March 10, 2002, all of the major guilds were led by women for the first time. Victoria Riskin has served as president of the Writers Guild since September 21, 2001. Kathleen Kennedy served as co-president of the Producers Guild in 2001 and was elected president on May 20, 2002. Melissa Gilbert was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild on March 9, 2002.
THE OSBOURNES is the happy accident of 2002, garnering a legion of fans by presenting the day-to-day tribulations of their strange, but loving family in a hybrid of reality television, situation comedy and melodrama. Where 1973's television experiment THE AMERICAN FAMILY shattered the image of a "normal" family, THE OSBOURNES have shattered the image of an "abnormal" family by reminding America that each family is unique in its own, often bizarre, way.
MOVIELINK.COM LAUNCHES MODEL FOR FUTURE DISTRIBUTION
Five of Hollywood's biggest studios (Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal, Warner Bros.) launched a video-on-demand service that will allow consumers to access the studios' libraries of films via a broadband Internet connection. The joint venture is one of the biggest distribution advances since Hollywood's earliest days, when studios distributed their films to a network of studio-owned theaters.
STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS TAKEN
The Sci Fi Channel's ambitious presentation of the 20-hour epic mini-series TAKEN has resurrected the potential for long-form storytelling on commercial television. Scheduled over ten consecutive weeknights, this landmark achievement and the vast creative ensemble who collaborated to bring it to television including 10 different directors and a single writer will hopefully spawn others who take risks at this level.
TIVO BECOMES A VERB
As further evidence of the digital revolution continuum, TIVO and other "personal recording devices" have penetrated the national consciousness to a degree that they have begun to affect how television is not only watched, but produced and presented.
BILLY WILDER, 1906 - 2002
On March 27, legendary writer/director/producer Billy Wilder died at the age of 95. Recipient of the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1986 and winner of five Academy Awards, Wilder gave the world several of America's greatest film achievements, including SUNSET BLVD., DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE APARTMENT, THE LOST WEEKEND and SOME LIKE IT HOT.
The following five noteworthy events (listed chronologically) have had an impact on the world of the moving image during the calendar year 2000:
AOL-TIME WARNER MERGER
In the business story of the year, new media giant America Online agreed to buy the world's largest traditional media company, Time Warner, creating an unprecedented marriage of distribution and content.
MOVIE MARKETING CALLED BEFORE CONGRESS
In response to a report from the Federal Trade Commission that cited movie studios, video game makers and the music industry as marketing violent entertainment to children under 17, senior executives from eight major movie studios-Disney, DreamWorks, Universal, Sony, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Paramount and MGM — testified before the Senate Commerce Committee on September 27, 2000. It was the first time that studio executives had been called before Congress to defend the marketing of their films.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON BRINGS THE WORLD TOGETHER
The success of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON marked a watershed moment in the ongoing emergence of global cinema which fuses storytelling style and substance from many cultures into a new sensibility that is accepted and enjoyed irrespective of language.
DGA REPORT FINDS DROP IN DIVERSITY
The Directors Guild of America reported on December 6, 2000, that the number of new women members was the lowest in five years, and there had also been a sharp decrease in hours worked by African-American directors in television.
DIGITAL REVOLUTION CONTINUUM
Throughout the year 2000, the Internet and other New Media continued to bring significant changes to film production, exhibition, marketing, distribution and copyrights.