How Attending AFI FEST Inspired Spencer Douglas to Become an AFI Member
This month’s member spotlight is Spencer Douglas from Los Angeles! When Spencer moved to LA, he discovered AFI FEST presented by Audi, a world-class festival that opened his eyes to the best in contemporary and classic filmmaking from across the globe. After attending his very first FEST in 2009, he decided to become an AFI member to continue reaping the benefits of the festival’s innovative and diverse programming. While this year marked a transition to a mostly virtual film festival, Spencer continued to support the festival and participate as an AFI member. He was one of the recipients of the Amazon Gift Box for the Opening Night film I’M YOUR WOMAN, directed by Julia Hart and starring Rachel Brosnahan, and later attended a conversation with award-winning cinematographer and AFI alum, Carolina Costa, held exclusively for members.
AFI spoke with Spencer about his early film memories, which films resonated with him at AFI FEST 2020 and his experience at this year’s first-ever online festival.
AFI: What is your first memory of a film or television show that made you fall in love with this art form?
Spencer: As a kid, movies made me laugh or want to go out and play in their fantasy worlds, but when E.T. came out in theaters, it was the first time a movie made me cry. I’d, of course, cried when I was little, from getting hurt or not getting my way, but I’d never before been moved to tears at a young age by empathy until the end of that film, and I remember noticing how powerful movies could be to elicit something like that.
AFI: If you could have lunch with one filmmaker or artist alive or dead, who would it be?
Spencer: My tastes are all over the place, so over the years, some of my favorite releases have been BOOGIE NIGHTS, THE COLOR PURPLE, THE DARK KNIGHT, THE MATRIX, RAISING ARIZONA, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, MENACE II SOCIETY, FANTASTIC MR. FOX, WEST SIDE STORY, UNFORGIVEN and CROOKLYN. Talking with any of those directors would be amazing!
But to sit and have lunch, I’d have to say Stanley Kubrick. His films leave a lasting impression. From the striking imagery and cutting-edge cinematography and production design to the themes he explored, I think it would be fascinating to sit and pick that brain of his to better understand why he chose to tell those particular stories in those particular ways.
AFI: How did you first hear about AFI, and why did you become an AFI member?
Spencer: I used AFI’s “100 Years…100 Movies” list in the past as a guide to catch up on classic titles, but it was when I moved to Los Angeles 12 years ago that I learned what a unique opportunity AFI FEST provided, giving me access to filmmaker Q&As, the best international films and other movies I may not otherwise have become aware of. Film festivals always seemed to be exclusively for people in the industry, but this one is for anyone who simply loves movies!
I became a member the next year to take full advantage of all that FEST has to offer, and I’ve attended every year since then. I missed the community experience of watching with audiences on a big screen this year, but the virtual set-up meant that I didn’t have to stand in line and got to see every single Q&A, so I’m not complaining!
AFI: What are three movies you enjoyed at this year’s AFI FEST and why?
Spencer: REALLY LOVE, SOUND OF METAL, UNCLE FRANK and FAREWELL AMOR (I know that’s four, but it’s so hard to choose!).
I feel like we’re finally approaching a place where films can show the diversity within a particular community and tell a wide variety of stories that highlight the different experiences of people who happen to be Black or immigrants or gay. Those experiences provide rich backgrounds and perspectives that can only come from those communities, but the films aren’t necessarily about any of those identities per se.
FAREWELL AMOR isn’t about the immigrant experience as much as it’s about family and their dynamics as they grow apart and then struggle to come back together. REALLY LOVE is a beautiful romance between two people with very different lifestyles and backgrounds, whose diverging life paths challenge them to make some hard decisions after falling in love. UNCLE FRANK portrays the double-edged sword of rejection and acceptance that can come from family, all while displaying the challenges associated with coming out. And SOUND OF METAL is about the process of coming to terms with a sudden, drastic life change beyond your control and all of the denial and resistance that can come with that – bolstered by incredible sound design and an authentic engagement with the deaf community. All four films were beautiful examples of nuance within universal themes, and I love that they were showcased by AFI.
The American Film Institute is a member-powered non-profit. Visit our website to donate or become an AFI member!