If Edward Zwick can be characterized as a director whose films are deeply personal with a distinct voice, then it’s only fitting he’s committed to helping the next generation of filmmakers find their own ways to tell stories by working closely with the American Film Institute.
“This has been a very important place for me because it stands for something,” says Zwick, who is an AFI alum. “I think it really places a value on stories that are worth telling and not cynical and have a specific meaning to the people who are telling them.”
The AFI has been a central influence on the filmmaker since his days there as a student. Zwick met Marshall Herskovitz, his partner in the production company Bedford Falls, while at AFI, where he teaches and lectures. He also brought his experience as a writer, director and producer to bear while serving on the school’s curriculum committee.
“I do believe there’s a tradition that it (AFI) represents of the classic American narrative,” Zwick says. “It’s not just a way of giving back, which is something we do as we get into the senior part of our lives; it’s also a way of trying to honor what you were given and be some small part of continuing that tradition.”
Being part of that philosophy of individual storytelling means guarding against nihilistic filmmaking in which movies become “thrill rides, E-tickets or show a violence that seems to celebrate only itself and have no consequences,” Zwick says. And while the director is focused on shining a light down the path toward quality filmmaking, he won’t say he’s there to do anything but help the students discover who they are as moviemakers.
“The best any teacher can do is elicit or give license to what the young artist already has inside,” says Zwick, who thinks he needed time in the world to get in touch with the things he believed. “There are any number of nuts and bolts you can pass along, but that’s not what distinguishes a filmmaker. Filmmakers are distinguished by their voice.”