On August 5, 2023, the American Film Institute (AFI) held a momentous celebration at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, marking the commencement of the AFI Conservatory Class of 2023. The ceremony recognized the achievements of graduates who completed AFI’s esteemed MFA program, renowned as one of the nation’s top film schools. The event gathered honored guests, friends, family, and industry professionals to commemorate the two-year journey of the talented filmmakers.
AFI President and CEO, Bob Gazzale, delivered a heartfelt welcome, emphasizing the essential role of storytellers in times of uncertainty. The occasion also featured inspiring speeches from Susan Ruskin, Dean of the AFI Conservatory and Executive Vice President of AFI, and the Class of 2023 Representative, Kunal Sengupta.
The highlight of the commencement was the conferral of AFI Honorary Degrees upon esteemed film veterans Ernest R. Dickerson and Gina Prince-Bythewood. Both were honored with a Doctorate of Fine Arts degree honoris causa in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the art of the moving image.
Speaking passionately to the audience and graduates, Gina Prince-Bythewood stressed the power of film to change perspectives and shift culture. She urged the emerging filmmakers to embrace their responsibility in portraying reality and emphasized how their work could shape the world through their creative choices.
Ernest R. Dickerson, in his speech, shared his lifelong love for cinema and encouraged the graduates to become storytellers of the human experience across time. He emphasized that filmmaking has taught him the universality of storytelling and the ability to connect with people from all walks of life.
Dickerson and Prince-Bythewood now join an esteemed roster of distinguished recipients who have received AFI Honorary Degrees in the past, including industry legends like Robert Altman, Maya Angelou, Clint Eastwood, Spike Lee, Helen Mirren, Quentin Tarantino, and many others.
The AFI Conservatory’s track record of producing exceptional talent is evident in its impressive list of alumni, which includes renowned filmmakers like Andrea Arnold, Darren Aronofsky, Patty Jenkins, David Lynch, Rachel Morrison, and Wally Pfister.
Ernest R. Dickerson, a veteran in film and television, is a multi-award-winning director and cinematographer known for his work on influential films like “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X,” as well as his contributions to hit television series like “The Wire” and “The Walking Dead.”
Gina Prince-Bythewood, an acclaimed director, writer, and producer, is known for her character-driven work in films like “Love & Basketball” and “The Secret Life of Bees.” Her recent projects, including “The Old Guard” and “THE WOMAN KING,” have further solidified her position as a leading creative force in the industry.
The AFI Conservatory was established in 1969 with the mission to train narrative filmmakers. Since then, it has maintained its position as the #1 film school in America, offering a two-year MFA degree in six filmmaking disciplines. Its alumni continue to make a significant impact on the art form, contributing to the evolution and advancement of filmmaking.
For more information about the AFI Conservatory and its programs, visit AFI.edu, and stay connected with AFI on social media.
The commencement of the AFI Conservatory Class of 2023 marks a new chapter in the world of filmmaking, with graduates equipped to carry the torch of storytelling into the future, inspired by the wisdom and achievements of Ernest R. Dickerson and Gina Prince-Bythewood, and the rich legacy of AFI’s alumni community.