AFI: From moving image to image capture

Org moves forward with new mission statement

1973 John Ford
1974 James Cagney
1975 Orson Welles
1976 William Wyler
1977 Bette Davis
1978 Henry Fonda
1979 Alfred Hitchcock
1980 James Stewart
1981 Fred Astaire
1982 Frank Capra
1983 John Huston
1984 Lillian Gish
1985 Gene Kelly
1986 Billy Wilder
1987 Barbara Stanwyck
1988 Jack Lemmon
1989 Gregory Peck
1990 Sir David Lean
1991 Kirk Douglas
1992 Sidney Poitier
1993 Elizabeth Taylor
1994 Jack Nicholson
1995 Steven Spielberg
1996 Clint Eastwood
1997 Martin Scorsese
1998 Robert Wise
1999 Dustin Hoffman
2000 Harrison Ford
2001 Barbra Streisand
2002 Tom Hanks
2003 Robert De Niro
2004 Meryl Streep
2005 George Lucas

The American Film Institute is still without a substantial endowment, but the nonprofit org remained on firm financial footing last year — nearly a decade after funding was yanked by the National Endowment of the Arts.

2004 ushered in a philosophical milestone for AFI. After lengthy soul-searching, it changed its mission statement to celebrate digital media in addition to film and TV.

“I think it’s been a great year. We’ve had a lot of ideas that are coming into focus and we’re feeling comfortable with our new mission statement. It helped to focus everybody and make sure we are all going forward in a consistent manner,” says AFI director-CEO Jean Picker Firstenberg, who is marking her 25th year in the top perch.

AFI’s revenues clocked in at $30.5 million in 2004, up from $28 million the prior year. Program expenses totaled $26 million for the year ending June 30, 2004, compared with $23.2 million in 2003.

Firstenberg can’t easily forget the torture of the mid-1990s, when the NEA — under pressure from conservative forces — all but withdrew financial support, forcing AFI to dramatically up its fund-raising efforts.

At that time, government funding provided roughly $2 million of AFI’s $12 million annual budget. It was the NEA, along with the Motion Picture Assn. of America and the Ford Foundation, that paid for the launch of AFI in 1967 to promote and advance the moving image as an art form.

“Our funding model changed. We had been the largest grantee of the NEA,” Firstenberg says. “I do think it’s unfortunate that funding for the arts nationally is not what it should be.”

By far, AFI’s largest chunk of coin now comes from its nationally televised programs — the long-running AFI Lifetime Achievement Award and the newer AFI’s “100 Years…” series of annual television specials.

This year’s lifetime tribute salutes George Lucas, and will air June 20 on NBC Universal’s USA Network.

“100 Years … 100 Movie Quotes” will be telecast June 21 on CBS. Pierce Brosnan will host.

According to AFI’s financial statement for 2004, national programs brought in revenues of $10.7 million last year.

The next largest piece of the revenue pie belonged to the org’s film and videomaker training ventures ($5.9 million), followed by private contributions ($4.8 million). Federal grants and contracts made up only $843,168 of revs.

AFI chief financial officer and treasurer Bruce Neiner says the launch of the “100 Years” series replaced the loss of government funding to a great extent, underscoring that AFI’s efforts to compensate for the loss of Washington’s assistance have been largely successful.

Neiner agrees with Firstenberg that securing a significant endowment remains a top priority for AFI. He says the interest alone on such an endowment could be used as general funds to support org programs. Some larger universities have a $2 billion-$3 billion endowment, while AFI’s current endowment remains static at about $7 million.

AFI did score a coup last fall on Capitol Hill when lawmakers appropriated $1.35 million for the AFI K-12 Screen Education Center, the largest government award for the program to date. It will show up on AFI’s 2006 budget.

The school initiative, a partnership of AFI, Best Buy Children’s Foundation and the U.S. Dept. of Education, helps students learn the tools of filmmaking. Since its launch, AFI K-12 has trained more than 400 teachers and 30,000 students at 200 schools nationwide. By next year, AFI hopes to extend the reach to 5,000 new teachers and as many as 60,000 students.

Also last year, the NEA awarded one of its largest preservation and access grants to the AFI Catalog, doling out $320,000. Firstenberg says the Catalog Endowment Fund, set up in 2003, has already reached $2.5 million, including a final pledge made in the form of a gift from the late Paul Getty.

The catalog is a database that will ultimately include all motion pictures from the 20th century, with each decade taking five years to complete. Last year, staffers completed cataloguing virtually all of the estimated 3,300 films made in the 1950s.

The AFI Fest secured its largest sponsorship in its 18-year history in 2004 courtesy of Audi.

Firstenberg says last year’s mantra was to keep a steady course. She adds that will change in the coming year as AFI announces a number of ambitious projects to extend its national presence.

Founding AFI director and board of trustee member George Stevens, who led the two-year effort to come up with a revised mission statement, believes the amended statement will help to accomplish this goal, as well as help with fund-raising.

The old mission statement posited that AFI’s purpose was to “advance and preserve the art of the moving image.” The new one proclaims that AFI is a “national institute providing leadership in screen education and the recognition and celebration of excellence in the art of film, television and digital media.”

Firstenberg and Stevens say the phrasing is much more inclusive, given how much has changed with the advent of new technologies and DVDs, for example.

“It is just an attempt to sharpen the focus of the institution and to make it more understandable to the public — and to potential contributors,” Stevens says. “I was never a big fan of ‘moving image.’ “

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