Gazzale, 42, will take office Nov. 1. He succeeds Jean Picker Firstenberg, who will retire this fall following AFI's 40th-anniversary celebration.
His appointment was announced Tuesday by chairman Howard Stringer and the organization's board of trustees.
"After considering a diverse and impressive group of candidates, AFI's board agreed ... that Bob Gazzale's passion for American film and the character and quality with which he upholds the standards of AFI will lead us proudly into the 21st century," Stringer said in a statement. "Or as we say in the movies, we searched for brain, heart and courage, and found it all in our own backyard."
Gazzale has been a senior executive at AFI for 15 years. He is a multiple Emmy-nominated TV producer and writer.
He will have oversight and responsibility for all aspects of the Los Angeles-based film education and cultural organization, including AFI's Conservatory, television productions, online and digital programs, film festivals and exhibition programs, and the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.
The board also announced it had named Firstenberg president-emeritus and a lifetime trustee.