Mel Gibson, AFI Board of Directors Chair Robert A. Daly and Denzel Washington at the AFI AWARDS 2016 luncheon at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, CA, on January 6, 2017.
LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 06: (L-R) Actor/director Mel Gibson, AFI Board of Directors Chair Robert A. Daly, and actor/director Denzel Washington attend the 17th annual AFI Awards at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)

The American Film Institute (AFI) celebrated the creative ensembles behind the year’s most outstanding storytelling in film and television at its annual AFI AWARDS 2016 luncheon.

Along with the 20 honorees of 2016, AFI recognized the documentary O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA with an AFI Special Award.

Additionally, event sponsor Audi announced the Audi Fellowship at the AFI Conservatory. Beginning August 2017, this new, pivotal scholarship program will support the entire two-year AFI Conservatory enrollment for one promising female director.

Closing the event, Denzel Washington delivered the annual benediction in tribute to the honorees and their remarkable achievements in film and television.

AFI AWARDS 2016 – FILM

ARRIVAL signals cinema’s unique ability to bend time, space and the mind. Denis Villeneuve’s cerebral celebration of communication — fueled by Eric Heisserer’s monumental script – is grounded in unstoppable emotion. As the fearless few who step forward for first contact, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker prove the imperative for finding a means to connect — with awe-inspiring aliens, nations in our global community and the knowledge that even the inevitable loss that lies ahead is worth living.

FENCES towers among the essential tales of America. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis’ thundering performances infuse lightning into the words of August Wilson’s iconic stage play, sparking emotion to leap from the screen and live in the heart. Washington’s sure direction adds layers of cinematic nuance to embrace a family that stands tall and together in a world demanding happiness and hardship be earned, not asked for — and responsibility resonate in the struggle to “take the crookeds with the straights.”

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 06: Actor/director Mel Gibson (L) and actor Andrew Garfield attend the 17th annual AFI Awards at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)
LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 06: Actor/director Mel Gibson (L) and actor Andrew Garfield attend the 17th annual AFI Awards at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)

HACKSAW RIDGE explodes the conceit of heroism in this epic American war movie with hope at its beating heart. Mel Gibson commands an army of artists in this true tale of World War II combat medic Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector whose weapon of choice was faith. Andrew Garfield’s wondrous resolve is a bright light amidst the unforgiving imagery of the battle scenes — a dance macabre choreographed to plant the seeds of humanity with each living soldier who descends from the heavens – and the hell of Hacksaw Ridge.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 06: (L-R) Actor Gil Birmingham, director Clint Eastwood and actor Jeff Bridges attend the 17th annual AFI Awards at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)
LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 06: (L-R) Actor Gil Birmingham, director Clint Eastwood and actor Jeff Bridges attend the 17th annual AFI Awards at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)

HELL OR HIGH WATER holds up the classic American western to new heights. From a lean, mean script by Taylor Sheridan, David Mackenzie directs this cowboy crime story for a new generation — one that lives in debt to the economic collapse of modern times. Embodying the dusty desperation of men with nothing left to lose, Chris Pine and Ben Foster are brilliant as brothers seeking justice at any expense, as Jeff Bridges’ weathered lawman defends the order — and the disorder of moral ambiguity.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone at the AFI AWARDS 2016 luncheon at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, CA, on January 6, 2017.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone at the AFI AWARDS 2016 luncheon at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, CA, on January 6, 2017.

LA LA LAND reaches for the Hollywood heavens like a rainbow — glowing incandescent with color, song and dance, and infectious energy that channels a time gone by to inspire today. Damien Chazelle’s valentine to “the ones who dream” beats to the music of Justin Hurwitz and leaps to the stars through the triple-threat talents of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. As it takes a final bow after an emotional encore, the film is an ode to all storytellers — and a timely toast to the art they create.

Michelle Williams at the AFI AWARDS 2016 luncheon at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, CA, on January 6, 2017.
LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 06: Actress Michelle Williams attends the 17th annual AFI Awards at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI)

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA ebbs and flows in silence to unleash a vast ocean of loss, grief and regret. This powerful tale of a life lived in flashback etches Kenneth Lonergan’s name in stone alongside the great American auteurs, and achingly nuanced performances from Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams embody deep humanity and warm hearts that yearn to blossom even in the most frigid of life’s ill winds.

Naomie Harris and Ginnifer Goodwin at the AFI AWARDS 2016 luncheon at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, CA, on January 6, 2017.
LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 06: Actresses Naomie Harris (L) and Ginnifer Goodwin attend the 17th annual AFI Awards at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI)

MOONLIGHT illuminates the peerless power of cinema to inspire empathy for others and embrace a greater understanding of ourselves. Barry Jenkins’ poetic tour de force presents a deeply emotional triptych — the journey of boy to man searching for connection amidst the labyrinth of societal boundaries. An extraordinary ensemble lights the way in this sublime realization of a world where the question “Who is you?” echoes in the pain of dreams deferred and the strength of an inner truth.

Martin Scorsese and Andrew Garfield at the AFI AWARDS 2016 luncheon at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, CA, on January 6, 2017.
LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 06: Director Martin Scorsese (L) and actor Andrew Garfield attend the 17th annual AFI Awards at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)

SILENCE reigns as a booming testament to the passion of an American master. Martin Scorsese’s eternal search for a light that guides began on the mean streets of New York and continues deep into the jungles of 17th-Century Japan — where interpretations of the divine catalyze mortal conflict. The journey is illuminated by soulful performances from Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson as they test their faith in what lies beyond and demand answers that resonate today.

SULLY soars into the cinematic history of heroism — demanding attention be paid not only for the actions of Captain Chesley Sullenberger, but for the strength to defend decisions made under inhuman pressure. Two American treasures bring this film to flight — Clint Eastwood guides the breathless story to its miraculous landing with the sure hand of a master craftsman, and Tom Hanks’ effortless embodiment of valor stands tall as a testament to his endlessly inspiring talents.

ZOOTOPIA illustrates a tale for our times — and for all time. This animated exploration of atavism is presented with cuddly characters in confectionary colors, but laced with savage insights into issues of race and class. Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore paint a rich canvas with rapid-fire comedy and heart-pounding action in a masterful balance between family entertainment and the darkness beneath the American ideal “where anyone can be anything.”

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