Theaters, festivals, virtual AFI all in the works

As Hollywood knows, the influence and activities of the American Film Institute extend well beyond its Los Angeles campus. Originally funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, today the org’s $26.8 million annual budget comes from foundations and grants, coupled with corporate, and individual gifts and fees for events.

With its life achievement kudocast, “100 Years” series and fledgling AFI Awards, it has also become a consumer brand. These programs help carry forward the org’s agenda in addition to reaping a net financial benefit.

“We’ve had to become entrepreneurial,” says James Hindman, AFI’s co-director and chief operating officer. “It’s very important to make the institute more public and to serve that piece of the public that loves movies.”

On the East Coast, the AFI programs repertory screenings, festivals and foreign-language features in Washington at the National Theater located at the Kennedy Center. With a focus on international offerings, the theater sponsors two annual fests: the European Union Festival and the Latin Film Festival, co-sponsored by the OAS.

Currently under construction is the AFI’s newest partnership with the private sector: a film repertory theater to be housed in the renovated Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Md.

One of D.C.’s oldest suburbs, downtown Silver Spring is undergoing a billion-dollar renovation. Scheduled for completion in 2003, the AFI Silver Theater will anchor a 22-acre redevelopment and help launch the Silver Spring Arts District.

Future events at the complex include a documentary film festival that will complement ongoing film programming.

On the West Coast, AFI researchers are working to complete a definitive catalog of American film. In 2001, the information was integrated into a comprehensive database, which will soon be available online.

Building a virtual AFI is part of the org’s new-media ventures. That division has placed the org at the forefront of creating programming prototypes for enhanced television applications, distance learning and establishing a screen education curriculum for secondary schools.

“Being electronically focused is part of our larger mission,” explains Nick DeMartino, AFI’s associate director of strategic planning and director of new-media ventures. Part of his mandate is to identify possible partners and create business arrangements consistent with the nonprofit’s mission.

For instance, the AFI has just completed the fourth cycle of its Enhanced TV Workshop where digital TV tech players (like Microsoft TV) partner with program producers (like Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”) to create show prototypes that combine television and interactive features (like customization and personalization).

“The Enhanced TV Workshop brings together technology, programming and creativity,” says Marcia Zellers, AFI’s director of enhanced TV.

Recognizing that programming drives technology, the workshop applies AFI’s conservatory model of study with the masters. Zellers contends that eTV industryites acknowledge the “need to be involved with us or be left behind.”

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