History of AFI

The American Film Institute began as a presidential mandate to establish film as essential to American identity, to elevate the nation's greatest art form to its deserving place in history. AFI grew from the seeds planted in the White House Rose Garden by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 to a fully rounded Institute that has defined American film for more than half a century — with the mission to preserve the heritage of the motion picture, to honor the artists and their work and to educate the next generation of storytellers.

AFI began in 1967, with Gregory Peck named first chair of the Board of Trustees and George Stevens, Jr., its director and CEO, and a board that featured film luminaries and masters including Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Poitier, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Jack Valenti. Today, the Board continues to be comprised of such artists and icons as Halle Berry, James L. Brooks, Kathleen Kennedy, Eva Longoria, Shonda Rhimes, Steven Spielberg and Ed Zwick.

Until the creation of AFI — well before the days of IMDb — there was no complete and comprehensive index of motion pictures. AFI began, in 1968, recording the first 100 years of American film with the AFI Catalog of Feature Filmsthe first-ever scholarly listing of films, with vetted information about the existence, availability and sources of films already produced, spanning the entirety of the art form since 1893.

The AFI Catalog marked the beginning of the Institute's efforts to preserve the heritage of American film. Sparking the movement for film preservation in the U.S., AFI began its first restoration in 1973, with director Frank Capra's 1937 classic LOST HORIZON. Today, the Library of Congress houses the AFI Collection of more than 27,500 essential and rare titles gathered by the Institute throughout the past five decades.

The Institute rose to meet the demands of the changing climate and to spread the knowledge of American film to the nation. In 1969, AFI established the AFI Conservatory, a graduate-level program to train narrative filmmakers. The hands-on, learning-by-doing program to this day offers training to future storytellers from a dedicated faculty from the film and television communities, all currently working in the industry, and including masters of the art form.

In response to an increased need for diversity in the filmmaking community, AFI founded the AFI Directing Workshop for Women — one of the very first programs of its kind anywhere in the world — in 1974. It is a free, hands-on training program committed to increasing the number of women working professionally in the moving image arts.

The highest honor for a career in American film, the AFI Life Achievement Award began in 1973 as a celebration of an individual who has greatly contributed to the enrichment of the art form, and therefore to American culture. Following inaugural honoree John Ford, annual recipients of this highest honor for a career in film have included Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Billy Wilder, Sidney Poitier, Elizabeth Taylor, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Morgan Freeman, Shirley MacLaine and John Williams.

In 1987, AFI held the first AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival in Hollywood — now AFI FEST presented by Audi — to further celebrate the accomplishments of artists devoted to the ever-changing form. The festival remains part of AFI's bicoastal exhibition efforts, with AFI FEST bringing films new and classic, global and domestic, to audiences in the heart of Hollywood.

Across the country, AFI has established a preeminent film presence, with the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center — originally located at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, before moving to Silver Spring, MD — offering year-round retrospective and cutting-edge, curated programming. In DC, AFI established its first documentary film festival in 1999, now known as AFI DOCS. Each year, the festival celebrates the highest standards in documentary filmmaking, convening U.S. policymakers with filmmakers from all over the world in the heart of our nation's capital and at the AFI Silver.

AFI, in 1998, unveiled a national celebration of the cinema centennial in AFI's 100 Years…100 Movies, a definitive selection of the greatest 100 films of all time, taking into account each movie's historical significance, cultural impact and contributions to the evolution of film technique. Following an updated 10th Anniversary of the list in 2007, the Institute then created AFI's 10 Top 10, raising a necessary spotlight on overlooked or undervalued genres ranging from Fantasy to Gangster, Courtroom Drama to Epic.

In 2000, AFI hosted the first AFI AWARDS, the only national honor for the entertainment community's creative ensembles both in front of and behind the camera, acknowledging the collaborative nature of movies and television. The celebration launched as an almanac aimed at honoring excellence in the moving image during the 21st century and to be referenced time and again by scholars as well as the general public.

In the new millennium, AFI partnered with the White House Student Film Festival, inviting K-12 students to screen their films in the East Room of the White House. The world-renowned AFI Conservatory continues to train storytellers who work at award-winning levels. In 2015, the Conservatory made history with its thesis films, which swept the entire narrative category of the Student Academy Awards. Altogether, AFI alumni have won 30 Academy Awards® and received 149 nominations.

AFI membership is open to the public and relies on the generous financial support from people like you to provide funding for AFI programs and initiatives.