Question: I enjoy watching those AFI (American Film Institute) specials, but what is AFI's function?

Answer: Founded in 1967, AFI is a film school: Directors David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Darren Aronofsky, Paul Schrader, Carl Franklin and Amy Heckerling all went there. Its initial funding came from the then-recently created (and now embattled) National Endowment for the Arts, the MPAA and the Ford Foundation, a heavy hitter in early corporate-sector support for the arts. In 1973 AFI began giving lifetime achievement awards to veteran actors, writers and directors whose bodies of work represent a significant contribution to America's film heritage — the first went to John Ford — and bit by bit branched out into various other activities designed to raise awareness of cinema's history and, not incidentally, of AFI itself. But as your question indicates, AFI's growing fame as a packager of lists and TV specials has to some degree overshadowed the fact that it's still training writers, cinematographers, production designers and directors, and that its graduates are just as successful as those coming out of NYU and USC.