The American Film Institute was founded in 1967 as a national arts organization to train filmmakers and preserve America's vanishing film heritage. The National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities recommended creating AFI as a nonprofit "to enrich and nurture the art of film in America" with initial funding from the NEA, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Ford Foundation.

"We will create an American Film Institute, bringing 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," said President Lyndon B. Johnson upon signing the legislation that created AFI.

AFI's original 22-member Board of Trustees included Chair Gregory Peck and Vice Chair Sidney Poitier as well as Francis Ford Coppola, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Jack Valenti and other representatives from the arts and academia.

Under the leadership of AFI's founding director, George Stevens, Jr., the Institute established a training program for filmmakers known as the Center for Advanced Film Studies, where the first class included Terrence Malick, David Lynch and Paul Schrader.

Jean Picker Firstenberg became AFI's second director in 1980 and led the organization for 27 years. Under her leadership, the Institute's eight-acre Hollywood campus was purchased; the film training program grew into the AFI Conservatory, an accredited graduate film school.

AFI celebrated its 40th Anniversary at the end of 2007. At that time, the Institute's third president, Bob Gazzale, was selected to continue the work of the Institute.

Over 4,300 artists have graduated from the AFI Conservatory. Their collective work is a promise fulfilled — to educate the next generation of filmmakers.

President Lyndon B. Johnson Announces the Creation of AFI on September 29, 1965