EXCLUSIVE: Although it was speculated that Clint Eastwood’s much-anticipated J. Edgar would show up at either the Venice, Telluride, Toronto or New York film festival this fall, it has been conspicuously absent from all of those lineups — until now. Warner Bros and Eastwood have agreed to have its world premiere Nov. 3 as the opening-night gala at AFI Fest 2011 at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Warners will open the film in limited engagements Nov. 9 and go wide two days later.

The film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the controversial founding director of the  FBI co-stars  Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer and Judi Dench in an original screenplay by Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk) that explores the public and private life of a man described as one of the most  powerful, controversial and enigmatic figures of the 20th century.

Eastwood, a four-time Oscar winner including Best Pictures Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, also has ties to the American Film Institute as the recipient of the 1996 AFI Life Achievement Award. Word inside Warners from those who have seen it say the film could put the prolific director back in the Best Picture race for the first time since Million Dollar Baby won in 2004. A (biased?) source there told me that it is definitely three-time nominee DiCaprio’s best shot to finally take an Oscar, so the premiere is a coup for AFI, which opened their fest last year with Ed Zwick’s Love and Other Drugs. This year’s fest is set for Nov. 3-10 and is likely to feature several other awards contenders thanks to its perfect timing for Oscar campaigns.

“What a gift it is to be going to the movies when Clint Eastwood is making them, and what an honor it is for the American Film Institute to premiere his latest contribution to America’s cultural legacy,” Bob Gazzale, president and CEO of the American Film Institute, said in a statement announcing the selection.

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