6, June 2017
By: Christy Oldham
“It is in our works of art that we reveal ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation.”
– President Lyndon B. Johnson
The common thread between most people who have achieved great success is ironically failure. There really is no such thing as failure- just a temporary state of lull that one resides in who has not reached their intended goal. The brilliant actor/director Denzel Washington said it best: “Fall down eight times, get up nine.”
The American Film Institute (AFI) class of 2017 was reminded of this over and over again during their commencement ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The historic ceremony marked the 50th Anniversary of the Institute’s formation in 1967 with a bestowment of recognition to Honorary Degree recipients Carol Burnett, Marshall Herskovitz (AFI Class of 1975) and Edward Zwick (AFI Class of 1975).
AFI began its commemoration of its golden milestone, which will unfold through 2019 — the 50th Anniversary of the Conservatory’s 1969 inaugural class. Activities and programs during that timeframe will continue AFI’s promise to educate today’s audiences and tomorrow’s artists.
“We have no clue where the entertainment business is going…if you want to make movies, television, a web series, vr series or a brain implant series…I wish I could tell you how to do it. The industry is changing so fast…so when there’s nothing else to bet on, bet on yourself” said Marshall Herskovitz to the class of 2017.
In celebration of the Anniversary, AFI Founding Director George Stevens, Jr., joined AFI President Emerita Jean Picker Firstenberg and current AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale — bringing together all three presidents from AFI’s history. Joining them and the AFI Class of 2017 were Sir Howard Stringer, AFI Board of Trustees Chair, and Robert A. Daly, AFI Board of Directors Chair.
“Fifty years ago, Gregory Peck and I announced the creation of the American Film Institute, with high aspiration and great hopes,” said Stevens. “Its mission was to advance and elevate the art of film, and one central idea was to create a Center for Advanced Film Studies [known today as the AFI Conservatory], a bridge for young people from learning to make films to becoming professional filmmakers. You, the graduates of 2017, are a fulfillment of that dream.”
“Knowing what you are good at and then doing it better than anyone else” was the advice from German film director and screenwriter Jan Schutte who also added “put your trust in God which means trust in yourself.”
The Commencement honorees — including this year’s AFI Conservatory graduates, the world’s newest filmmakers — underscored the spirit of the Anniversary, as 2017 also marks the 50th birthday of THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW, and Herskovitz and Zwick are both prominent alumni of the Conservatory. A Doctorate of Fine Arts honoris causa was conferred upon Burnett by special guest Kristin Chenoweth, and Doctorates of Communication Arts honoris causa were conferred upon Herskovitz and Zwick by Firstenberg.
Burnett began her comments with her trademark “Tarzan yell” and urged Fellows to “make great art,” while adding, “Nothing is impossible if you believe hard enough, and you work hard enough.”
Herskovitz and Zwick shared anecdotes from their longtime creative collaboration, which began at the AFI Conservatory, and which Herskovitz described as “an extraordinary partnership…and the longest living partnership in Hollywood today.”