To Promote and Preserve: The NEA Helps Found the American Film Institute

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Balck and white still photograph of a young woman next to a potted plant.

The AFI has been at the forefront of preserving America's rich film heritage, including Broken Blossoms (1919) starring Lillian Gish.

In 1967, the U.S. film industry was more than 75 years old, and many groundbreaking films of early cinema were rapidly aging past the point of preservation. In response to this threat to the nation's heritage, the two-year-old National Endowment for the Arts partnered with the Motion Picture Association of America and the Ford Foundation to create the American Film Institute (AFI). Today, nearing its 40th birthday, the AFI continues to fulfill its mission to preserve America's movie heritage, as well as training future generations of filmmakers, presenting the moving image in the U.S. and abroad, and redefining the moving image in light of new technology.

President Lyndon B. Johnson envisioned the need for the AFI when he signed the legislation creating the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities: "We will create an American Film Institute that will bring together leading artists of the film industry, outstanding educators, and young men and women who wish to pursue this 20th century art form as their life's work."

Today the AFI presents more than 3,000 events annually, including film festivals and workshops. Some of the world's most notable filmmakers are graduates of AFI's Conservatory, and since 1973 AFI has awarded its prestigious Life Achievement Award to industry luminaries like actors Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro and directors Martin Scorcese and George Lucas.

The AFI also continues its preservation mission. More than 27,500 theatrical features, shorts, newsreels, documentaries, and television programs, from 1894 to the present, comprise the AFI Collection at the Library of Congress. Additional films in the collection are held by archives nationwide including the UCLA Film and Television Archive, the Museum of Modern Art Film Department, and the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House.

Significant films preserved by AFI include the ten-minute short A Fool and His Money. This 1912 film by Alice Guy, the world's first woman director, is believed to be the first film made with an entirely African American cast. In recent years, the AFI has focused on acquiring several hundred rare silent-era films that previously had disappeared and were no longer available in the U.S.

NEA support for the AFI continues into the 21st century, including ongoing support to AFI's Directing Workshop for Women, which has benefited more than 200 women filmmakers since 1974.