jacqueline lyanga

Jacqueline Lyanga

*As the Director of AFI FEST, presented by the American Film Institute’s (AFI) in Los Angeles, Jacqueline Lyanga literally travels the world to screen hundreds of movies in an effort to identify the best of the best in cinema.

As one of only 3 African-American big festival directors, Lyanga occupies a coveted and influential role in Hollywood that culminates with the annual AFI FEST that will take place later this year. Impossibly busy, Lyanga very generously agreed to speak with Robertson Treatment to share valuable insights to filmmakers on how to get their projects into the big leagues.

Robertson Treatment: So what are your duties as the director of a big ticket film festival?  

Jacqueline Lyanga: I am the Director of AFI FEST, the American Film Institute’s annual year end celebration of cinema in Los Angeles. AFI FEST is a film festival that showcases over 100 of the year’s best films and brings over 150 filmmakers from all over the world to Los Angeles to present their films. On a day to day basis, I am negotiating contracts, hiring staff, screening films, tracking films for next year’s festival, managing the budget, editing press releases, overseeing filmmaker travel and hospitality, creating content for an e-blast, redesigning ads, planning panels for the festival with a media partners, working with our tech team on a schedule to test DCPs, making a 3D version of our festival trailer and talking to the studios about the talent coming to their red carpet premieres and parties at the festival.

RT: How does one get into this profession?  

JL: I studied film production and film criticism as an undergraduate in university and then I went to work in both production and distribution for companies like Triptych Media, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, and Lifetime Television but I also have a Masters in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute. And one of my first jobs in the industry was working for the industry office of the Toronto International Film Festival. So, there has never really been any question about the path that I was on, I always knew that my life would revolve around cinema in some way.

RT: What kind of challenges do face to meet your professional benchmarks at AFI?

JL: Every year is different, and as a programmer, you start the year at Sundance, Rotterdam and Berlin and you look forward to the festivals in the spring like Cannes and each time you sit down in a theater in the dark, you are filled with excitement and hope; you know that each year there will be great films and you will discover a new filmmaker and that at the same time, there will also be disappointments and we never quite know until after Toronto, exactly what the makeup of our program will be.

RT: Talk about the rewards/high points that you’ve experienced?

JL: There have been many, but one notable experience was when I moderated a conversation with Pedro Almodovar, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which is one of Hollywood’s historic theater palaces. Almodovar was the festival’s Guest Artistic Director and the conversation was an opportunity to talk to him about his influences, about art and working with actors. It was an extraordinary experience as he is one of the great modern masters of cinema.

RT: Please give some advice for young professionals who want to follow your path?

JL: One of the most important things for any career is relationships; in addition to seeing films and reading criticism you have to get to know the filmmakers, the programmers at other festivals and the people in the industry who you will need to work with in exhibitions – so that means, sales agents, distributors and publicists.  And of course, you have to be passionate about what you want to accomplish.


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Grade: A+

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