AFI Fest Gets New Director

Michael Lumpkin and Jacqueline Lyanga -Split-Getty-H 2018
Rodrigo Vaz/FilmMagic; Amanda Edwards/WireImage

Michael Lumpkin will succeed Jacqueline Lyanga as the American Film Institute consolidates the staffs of the two festivals it operates each year.

Michael Lumpkin, who heads the American Film Institute’s AFI Docs, will also oversee AFI Fest, the AFI announced Tuesday.

At AFI Fest, he will succeed Jacqueline Lyanga, who has headed that festival since 2010. Lumpkin has been given the new title of director of AFI Festivals, as the AFI combines programming and operations staff of the two film festivals it runs each year.

Since 2015, Lumpkin has served as director of AFI Docs, the documentary film festival that the AFI presents in Washington, D.C., and Silver Spring, Maryland, each year. This year's edition gets underway Wednesday with the world premiere of Personal Statement, directed by Juliane Dressner and Edwin Martinez, and runs through Sunday.

AFI Fest is held in November in Hollywood — this year's event is set to run Nov. 8-15 — and, in addition to offering a sampling of global cinema, has established itself as a launching ground for year-end awards hopefuls such as Ava DuVernay's Selma, Clint Eastwood's America Sniper, Damien Chazelle's La La Land and Dee Rees' Mudbound.

The two festivals will continue to operate separately, the AFI revealed, saying that it is combining their staffs "to streamline efforts with studios, distributors, sponsors and cultural partners." 

"As the art form continues to evolve in exciting ways — so has the art of finding an audience, and this new structure will strengthen AFI's voice on both coasts and across the nation," AFI president and CEO Bob Gazzale said in a statement.

In an interview, Gazzale denied that the moves were dictated by a need to cut costs. "This is zero percent a cost-cutting consideration," he said. "The budgets for the combined festivals over the past three years have gone up. The goal is to be more efficient for the benefit of the films and the filmmakers."

As Gazzale explained it, ever since he was named head of the AFI in 2007, there have been conversations about consolidating the two fests. "We were operating well, but with double the efforts," he said. "We had two teams of programmers going to the same film festivals, and programmers from both festivals reaching out to filmmakers and distributors and sponsors. This is purely a consolidation of efforts so we can raise the bar on both events."

According to Gazzale, as the conversations became more serious, Lyanga, who had a long history with the festival, decided it was time to move on.

Lyanga, a graduate of the AFI Conservatory, who joined AFI Fest in 2005 before then being promoted to director in 2010, said, "It has been an amazing and extremely rewarding experience to be part of the festival's growth for the past eight years. My time at AFI goes back to 2005, during which I've seen this incredible organization continue to evolve and I have been able to work closely with a tremendous and passionate group of movie-lovers. I'm so proud of where we've taken the festival, and now I'm ready for new challengess and opportunities."

Before joining AFI Docs, Lumpkin was executive director of the International Documentary Association for six years, and headed Frameline and its San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival for 25 years. He also was a producer of the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet, about gay representation in Hollywood movies.

In his own statement, Lumpkin said, "I am incredibly honored to have the opportunity to lead AFI's portfolio of outstanding film festivals spanning the country and all film genres, from AFI Fest, now in its 32nd year, to AFI Docs in its 16th year, as well as other AFI film festival events. I look forward to working with all of AFI's telented and dedicated exhibition staff on what wil be stellar events in D.C. this month and in Hollywood in November."

This year, AFI Fest is expected to face added competition from Film Independent's rival LA Film Festival. That event, which traditionally has been held in the summer, is moving to a September berth, from Sept. 20-28, in hopes of securing films that are part of the fall awards-season conversation.

June 12,1:45 p.m. Additional comments from Bob Gazzale added.