Film Institute Honors Longtime Chief

October 5, 2007 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

“Jean is very aware that Hollywood films are not just a national treasure but a global treasure,” Douglas said. The woman who has overseen more than two dozen career-achievement awards given by the American Film Institute was honored Thursday for her own life’s work.

Jean Picker Firstenberg, who is retiring after 27 years as the group’s chief executive officer, was given a life-achievement award during a luncheon marking the institute’s 40th anniversary.

Kirk Douglas, who received the film institute’s life-achievement award in 1991, presented the award. During Firstenberg’s tenure, the institute helped solidify American cinema’s dominance worldwide, Douglas said.

Firstenberg took charge of the institute in 1980, succeeding George Stevens Jr. as the second person to head the institute that promotes moviemaking, film education and preservation.

“First of all, I want to say thank you for inviting me to be a part of AFI, and secondly, for allowing me to stay so long,” Firstenberg said.

Among the ventures developed under Firstenberg were the institute’s annual top-100 lists ranking such achievements as the best American films, comedies, love stories and heroes and villains.

She also presided over the group’s transition from an outfit funded by government grants to a nonprofit organization and oversaw the group’s directing workshop for women, said Howard Stringer, Sony Corp. chairman and head of the institute’s board of trustees.

Firstenberg said the institute’s mission was best summed up by something a great American filmmaker said at one of the institute’s past events.

“Orson Welles said it best,” Firstenberg said. “`To the movies. To good movies of every possible kind.'”

Film historian Bob Gazzale, a senior executive at AFI for the last 15 years, will succeed Firstenberg as chief executive on Nov. 1.



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