AFI Member Spotlight: James Lee

Each month, the American Film Institute profiles one of its members. This May, meet AFI Premiere Circle member James Lee.

An AFI member since 2011, James Lee is an aerospace engineer by education, with career beginnings at the Aerospace Corporation. Currently, he serves as President and CEO at HF Group, which he said has a long history working with the Air Force, including SR-71 and U-2 spy planes.

He has worked as an engineering duty officer in the Navy Reserve on “everything from ships, submarines, and weapons, communication and space systems, and now in the field of cyber warfare,” Lee said. In the late 2000s, he went on active duty to teach engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy, and deployed managing construction and engineering efforts in Al Anbar, Iraq.

This June, he’ll be attending the AFI Life Achievement Award Tribute to Denzel Washington. AFI spoke with him about his interests as a member of the Institute.

Lee said his favorite movie is LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, with GONE WITH THE WIND as a close second. He is pictured at top with his daughter, Jacqueline, at an AFI Life Achievement Award event.

What have been your favorite AFI memories, whether at Life Achievement Award or other events?

My two favorite moments were introducing my daughter to Tippi Hedren and Richard Donner and having conversations with them. One of my daughter’s favorite movies is THE BIRDS. We thoroughly enjoy the special screening events and the opportunities to talk and listen to their stories. All the Life Achievement Awards are memorable and the one that sticks out in my mind so much is Mel Brooks, since I have enjoyed his movies and talent all my life and my children have all enjoyed his classics, especially YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

What are you most looking forward to about the Denzel Washington tribute?

Denzel Washington is such a remarkable actor with so many iconic roles. I look forward to hearing how he got started in acting and what he things have been the key factors in his success and continuing career. Being a Navy officer, my favorite role of his is the Executive Officer of the USS Alabama in CRIMSON TIDE.

The company where you currently serve as President & CEO has an intriguing history involving Howard Hughes. Tell us about this.

The Houston Corporation was founded by Hub Houston in Los Angeles sometime in the 1930s, I believe, and Mr. Houston was an associate of Howard Hughes. Mr. Hughes was making movies as we all know and the method of developing film was using long dip tanks, which can be tedious and took up enormous amounts of room. Mr. Houston came up with the idea of threading the film through the various tanks and solutions for processing the film. This is known as a serpentine film processor, which became the standard for film processing from then through today. The Houston Corporation merged with The Fearless Camera Corporation sometime in the 1950s. The Houston Fearless Corporation dissolved in the early 1970s and my father, M.S. Lee purchased the film processor assets of the Houston Fearless Photo Division in 1976, which at that time was owned by ATI, Inc. of Dayton, OH.

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