AFI FEST 2021: American Icons – Movies About Influential Figures – American Film Institute


AFI FEST 2021: American Icons – Movies About Influential Figures

American cultural theorist Charles Jencks once said that, “it’s a mark of any icon that it should be open to iconoclasm.” And these films are about people who really broke the mold. In each of their fields, they proved themselves to be leaders, changing the way we see the world. And though they each, in their own ways, deserve the accolades and devotion, it is easy to forget that they were/are real people. These features give a glimpse into their worlds and help us see just what it takes to create an icon.


For the better part of the 20th century, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein was a household name due to his music in WEST SIDE STORY (for which he won an Academy Award®), his role as Musical Director of the New York Philharmonic and his work on television making classical music accessible to the general public. This documentary follows the life of this extraordinary first-generation son of Ukrainian-Jewish parents, from his early life in New England, to the many “firsts” he claimed during his early orchestral career and his constant advocacy of worthy causes. The narration uses Bernstein’s own words, harvested from his many recorded appearances on the radio, television and in-person interviews, which offers a strikingly intimate perspective. Learn more about the film.

Screening in-person |  November 12, 3:15 p.m. | Buy In-Person Ticket(s)


Following the virtual and theatrical screenings, watch a special conversation with director-producer Rex Miller and director Sam Pollard moderated by AFI FEST Programmer Julia Kipnis.

Born and raised in a segregated Virginia, Arthur Ashe rose to the top of the overwhelmingly white world of tennis in the 1960s to achieve many firsts as the most prevalent Black man in the sport. Reticent early in his career to address racial strife in America until the events of 1968, Ashe became an outspoken civil rights activist in the fight against racial discrimination, South African apartheid and later the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS. This insightful documentary includes exclusive interviews with Ashe’s family, Black activists and tennis cohorts Billie Jean King and John McEnroe. With striking archival footage and previously unheard audiotapes, FEST alum Sam Pollard (SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I’VE GOTTA BE ME) and Rex Miller’s latest film celebrates the inspirational life of this groundbreaking tennis champion and humanitarian. Learn more about the film.

Screening in-person |  November 13, 1:00 p.m. | Buy In-Person Ticket(s)

Virtual screening available beginning November 13, 12:00 p.m. PST | Buy Virtual Ticket(s)


World Premiere

The SoundCloud rap generation, known for music that explores emotional vulnerabilities, prescription drug use and mental health, has greatly impacted American music and culture in the last decade. After posting songs from his home in Chicago, Juice WRLD catapulted to stardom and quickly connected with fans for his profound lyrics and impressively long freestyles. But just three years after his career started, Juice WRLD succumbed to an oxycodone and codeine overdose as he celebrated his 21st birthday.

Filmmaker Tommy Oliver explores the life and final days of this talented, young rapper with footage from studio sessions of unreleased songs, behind-the-scenes moments on tour and emotional interviews with the friends he left behind. Almost two years after his death, the impact of Juice WRLD’s music lives on. Learn more about the film.

Screening in-person |  November 12, 6:30 p.m.   | Buy In-Person Ticket(s)


Julia Child single-handedly changed the way Americans viewed the dinner table in the 20th century. Enrolling in the famed Le Cordon Bleu, a male-dominated culinary school in France, transformed her life. Child went on to spend over a decade co-writing “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” After moving back to the States in the early 1960s, Child mesmerized audiences with her entertaining Boston public television show and became a culinary and cultural icon.

Highlighted by delightful, never-before-seen clips from Child’s television show, veteran filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West (RBG, MY NAME IS PAULI MURRAY) explore Child’s influential career in this tender portrait of a trailblazing American woman. Bon appétit! Learn more about the film.

Screening in-person |  November 11, 3:00 p.m. | Buy In-Person Ticket(s)


Closing Night

Armed with a clear vision and a brazen 78-page plan, Richard Williams is determined to write his daughters, Venus and Serena, into history. Training on Compton, California’s abandoned tennis courts – rain or shine – the girls are shaped by their father’s unyielding commitment and their mother’s balanced perspective and keen intuition, defying the seemingly insurmountable odds and prevailing expectations laid before them. Based on the true story that will inspire the world, KING RICHARD follows the journey of a family whose unwavering resolve and unconditional belief ultimately deliver two of the world’s greatest sports legends. Learn more about the film.

Screening in-person | November 14, 7:00 p.m.   | Buy In-Person Ticket(s)


From Peter Middleton and James Spinney (NOTES ON BLINDNESS), comes a uniquely crafted portrait of iconic physical comedian Charlie Chaplin, creator of silent cinema’s loveable “tramp.” Featuring rare and never-before-heard recordings and introducing characters from Chaplin’s life who had been previously written out of the narrative, THE REAL CHARLIE CHAPLIN brings to life a complex, multi-dimensional image of the world-renowned comedian. This dynamic broad-strokes account of his ascent touches on the major moments of his lengthy career, notably shining a light on the complexities and the darker aspects of his personality. It also offers an appreciation of Chaplin’s films themselves, providing an introduction to the uninitiated. The film’s skillful entwining of reenactments with archival materials presents new possibilities for nonfiction filmmaking. Learn more about the film.

Screening in-person | November 14, 12:15 p.m. | Buy In-Person Ticket(s)

With health and safety being top priority, AFI FEST 2021 will require all festival-goers who attend in-person events and/or screenings to be fully vaccinated.  Learn more about AFI’s annual film festival celebrating the best in global cinema at

Individual tickets and passes to AFI FEST 2021 are currently available on AFI Members receive exclusive discounts and benefits to the festival. To become an AFI member, visit


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