Morgan Freeman, Bradley Cooper, Christopher Nolan Celebrate AFI's 50th Anniversary

Morgan Freeman toasts the AFI during the AFI 50th Anniversary Gala - Getty - H 2017
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Hollywood stars mixed and mingled with politicians at the nation’s capital last night to celebrate the American Film Institute at the Library of Congress.

American Film Institute, an organization founded in partnership with the Library of Congress in 1967 under President Lyndon B. Johnson, works to preserve and catalog our nation’s most cherished films, many of which had been disintegrating on their reels as the volatile nitrate films decomposed. They include early gems such as Citizen Kane and It’s a Wonderful Life, as well as 1912’s Richard III, the oldest surviving feature film.

In the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building, Morgan Freeman addressed a crowd of nearly 250 influencers from both sides of the camera and the aisle, including front-row names Bradley Cooper, Christopher Nolan, Nancy Pelosi and Madeleine Albright.

"When AFI was born 50 years ago from seeds planted in the White House Rose Garden, the dream was to ensure that movies in all their forms take their rightful place among the other arts," Freeman said to roaring applause. "Fifty years later, we can say: Mission accomplished."

Freeman then charged the audience with a plan for the next 50 years: “AFI is here to encourage young children from Mississippi to Malibu and all around the world to tell their stories. Why? To bring us together. To remind us of our common heartbeat, our common humanity. That is the power of a motion picture. That is why we gather here tonight, to share our collective pride in this American art form. And to encourage a new generation of storytellers to look up — always look up ... to dream of a greater day.”

Freeman’s speech was followed by a montage of iconic film stills, from Charlie Chaplin riding a train to Matthew Broderick riding a parade float, from Field of Dreams to Silver Linings Playbook, from West Side Story to Selma.

On the red carpet, Freeman told The Hollywood Reporter that he hoped Hollywood could continue to shape our national discussion toward finding common ground. “What I’d really like to promote is togetherness. Recently I was listening to an astronaut who was talking about how fragile this world looks from out there [in space], and when you realize what’s going on down here, it’s like, folks, chill out.”

It was widely discussed at the star-studded event that Hollywood, in addition to preserving our country’s cultural history through film, plays a significant role in driving our national conversations by exposing a wider audience to social concepts and diverse issues.

“The images we see in film and TV affect our lives, our perception, create conversation. Filmmakers need to be responsible for that,” said veteran director Lesli Linka Glatter (Homeland, Mad Men), adding, “When we go back and look at classic films, it helps us understand our history and our humanity.”

The night was notably free of political discussion, regardless of the central D.C. venue. Freeman and his business partner in Revelations Entertainment, producer Lori McCreary (Invictus, Madam Secretary), eschewed any conversation about our current administration.

In Freeman’s predinner toast, he made it a point to tell the crowd, “Tonight is not about politics; it’s about art.” But AFI’s founding director, George Stevens, took a moment to show gratitude to AFI’s supporters over the past 50 years (including co-founders Sidney Poitier and Gregory Peck) and underline the fact that AFI is currently sustaining itself with no government funding.

In regard to the allegations of sexual harassment that have come to light in Hollywood, as well as in D.C., Glatter applauded the women and men who have bravely spoken out against the culture of sexual harassment in the workplace: “These are dark little secrets. The fact that people are now coming out and talking about them — hopefully this will be the way that it stops happening.” Glatter was also quick to acknowledge that she was no stranger to unwelcome advances. “Oh, #MeToo,” she said, referencing the hashtag that’s been sweeping social media. “I don’t know any woman who’s worked [in any environment] and not had something happen.”