Today, the American Film Institute celebrated the commencement of the AFI Conservatory Class of 2023 at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The event was a culmination of two years of intense study at AFI’s MFA program, ranked one of the top film schools in the nation. At the ceremony, AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale welcomed the honored guests, graduates, friends and family to the historic theatre, and spoke about the imperative role of storytellers in uncertain times. The celebration also included speeches from Susan Ruskin, Dean of the AFI Conservatory and Executive Vice President of AFI; the Class of 2023 Representative Kunal Sengupta; and AFI Honorary Degree recipients Ernest R. Dickerson and Gina Prince-Bythewood, who were both honored with a Doctorate of Fine Arts degree honoris causa for contributions of distinction to the art of the moving image.
“AFI Honorary Degrees celebrate an ideal – a standard to which graduates may aspire,” said Gazzale. “It is AFI’s honor to shine a spotlight on the artistry of Ernest Dickerson and Gina Prince-Bythewood before the storytellers of tomorrow.”
Addressing the audience and graduates, Prince-Bythewood said, “What we do is so powerful. Film can change perspective, it can shift culture, it can change minds.” Speaking about artists’ responsibility to portray reality as it should be, she reminded the filmmakers, “You have the power to [see the world better] with your pen, with your camera, with your choices.”
In his speech, Dickerson spoke about his lifelong love affair with cinema and wished the same for the filmmakers, encouraging the graduates to tell stories of the human experiences, past, present and future. He said, “The most important thing it has taught me is that we are all storytellers.”
View videos of the speeches below.
Dickerson and Prince-Bythewood join an esteemed group of distinguished past AFI Honorary Degree recipients, including Robert Altman, Maya Angelou, Saul Bass, Angela Bassett, Kathryn Bigelow, Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Anne V. Coates, Clint Eastwood, Roger Ebert, Nora Ephron, Jodie Foster, Lesli Linka Glatter, Lawrence Herbert, James Earl Jones, Lawrence Kasdan, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Angela Lansbury, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Helen Mirren, Rita Moreno, Paul Schrader, Quentin Tarantino, Lily Tomlin, Robert Towne, Cicely Tyson, Haskell Wexler, John Williams and Michelle Yeoh.
Past Alumni of the AFI Conservatory, ranging from modern masters to bold new voices defining the state of the art form, include Andrea Arnold, Darren Aronofsky, Ari Aster, Deniese Davis, Sam Esmail, Brad Falchuk, Affonso Gonçalves, Susannah Grant, Liz Hannah, Patty Jenkins, Janusz Kamiński, Matthew Libatique, David Lynch, Melina Matsoukas, Polly Morgan, Rachel Morrison and Wally Pfister, among others.
For more information about the AFI Conservatory, a top-ranked MFA film school, visit AFI.edu.