Spotlight Films include “Dream Scenario” starring Nicolas Cage, “All of Us Strangers” starring Paul Mescal, and “A Little Prayer” featuring David Strathairn
The 12th Annual Key West Film Festival announces its official 2023 lineup including major falls films from Sofia Coppola, Wim Wenders, Aki Kaurasmaki, Matthew Heineman, Andrew Haigh, Lisa Cortes and Angus MacLachlan. More than 75 films will be shown during the 5-day festival, which runs November 15-19.
As is tradition for the festival, the Opening and Closing Night films are curated by two of the top film critics in the country. Stephanie Zacharek of Time will host a discussion with David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter prior to the Opening Night screening of “Priscilla,” which was the Centerpiece Film at the 2023 New York Film Festival. Newcomer Cailee Spaeny won the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival for her breakthrough performance as Priscilla Presley in this reconsideration of a rock’n’roll fairytale, from filmmaker Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”).
On Saturday night, Rooney will lead a pre-show conversation with Zacharek prior to the screening of “Eileen,” which spotlights Anne Hathaway in a head-spinning performance as Rebecca, the dangerous catalyst in the quiet, desperate life of a young woman, Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie), living in small-town Massachusetts in 1964, swept up into dark circumstances in the dead of winter.
Other spotlight films include the dark comedy “Dream Scneario,” starring Nicolas Cage and Julianne Nicholson; and “A Little Prayer,” starring David Strathairn and directed by Academy Award nominee Angus MacLachlan, whose two previous films (“Goodbye to All That” and “Abundant Acreage Available”) have shown at KWFF (2014 and 2017). MacLachlan will appear with the film for a Q&A.
This year also features special spotlight distinctions. Playing in the LGBTQ Spotlight Film is Andrew Haigh’s “All of Us Strangers,” starring two of the UK’s most popular and charismatic actors – Andrew Scott (“Fleabag”) and Paul Mescal (who made an international breakthrough in 2021’s “Aftersun”) – in a critically acclaimed romantic fantasy that premiered at the Telluride Film Festival. The Documentary Spotlight Film is Academy Award nominee Matthew Heineman’s “American Symphony,” a moving and intimate portrait of two artists at a crossroads featuring multi-instrumentalist Jon Batiste and his life partner, best-selling author Suleika Jaouad, as they are suddenly faced the return of her long-dormant cancer.
This year’s LGBTQ films, programmed with the assistance of Eugene Hernandez, Executive Director of the Sundance Film Festival, and Brian Brooks of Cinetic Media, include the CPH:DOX winner “Queendom,” a portrait of Gena, a 21-year-old Russian transgender street performer and activist who fled the dismal countryside of her youth for the cosmopolis of Moscow to flaunt extravagant costumes and makeup that push the fashion envelope to the outer limits – and inevitably draw the attention of the government. Also playing is “Studio One Forever,” a look at the famous nightclub in Los Angeles where so many young men came of age, produced by Stephen Israel, whose previous feature “Helicopter Mom” played at KWFF 2014. Rounding out the programming is the Miami-produced fiction film, “Clocked,” about an 18 year old undefeated boxer whose true passion is for self acceptance, through his transition to a woman. The film will also be featured in the Florida Focus section of the festival.
Documentaries take center stage at the festival this year, with music, food, sports, outer space, and even a modern day Noah’s Ark staking their claims. “La Huella” follows a world class restaurant on the beach in a small Uruguayan town, not too dissimilar from the culinary delights of Key West, and will be accompanied by a wine tasting prior to the film. Emmy winner Jesse Moss, whose film “The Bandit” showed at KWFF 2016 when Burt Reynolds was honored, returns with “The Mission,” which uncovers the complex and troubling true story behind the 2018 death of evangelical Christian missionary John Chau. Two docs about music include “Maestra,” which takes us to the only competition in the world for women conductors, and “Musica!,” which celebrates the efforts of the nonprofit Horns to Havana as the US-based group teaches young Cubans how to maintain their instruments. Themes of exploring the unknown manifest themselves in both “The Arc of Oblivion,” which invites us to consider which memories we choose to archive as a man in Maine build his own ark, in addition to “Space Race,” the profoundly inspirational story of the program to send the first African American astronaut into space and the trailblazing paths laid by its pioneers. Rounding out the section is “The Lionheart,” following Susie Wheldon raising her two young boys to be racecar drivers twenty years after their father, two-time Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon, died in a racing crash. Wheldon will appear at the festival with the film.
International films include three films which are the official entries from their respective countries for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film: Japan’s “Perfect Days,” directed by multiple Oscar nominee Wim Wenders; Finland’s “Fallen Leaves,” from Aki Kaurismaki (whose film “The Other Side of Hope” played KWFF 2017), and France’s “The Taste of Things,” starring Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche.
Florida gets its moment in the sun with the special Florida Focus section. Films include the aforementioned “Clocked,” along with “Razing Liberty Square,” produced by KWFF alumnus Kareem Tabsch (“The Last Resort,” “Dolphin Lover”) in which residents of Miami’s historic Liberty Square housing project find themselves on the frontlines of climate gentrification when a $300 million revitalization plan threatens their neighborhood. Miami-shot “Big Easy Queens” is a wild romp featuring drag performers who are regulars at the Key West clubs. And local director Michael J. Kirk will present an encore screening of “200 Years of Key West History.”
Special screenings this year include the “Forty Year Flashback,” featuring a 40th Anniversary screening of Martin Scorcese’s “The King of Comedy,” starring Robert DeNiro and Jerry Lewis, and featuring a soundtrack from Robbie Roberston. Film critics David Fear of Rolling Stone and Sam Adams of Slate.com will have a conversation prior to the film.
Also featured will be the 72 Hour Film Challenge, a widely popular showcase of local film teams who conceive of, write, shoot and edit a film in 72 hours.
Shorts programs at the festival this year include sections for Comedy, Documentary, International, Florida films, Student and Florida students. The Kimberly Peirce Award for Best Student Film presented by the Diana King Foundation will also be presented once again. The shorts programs and Florida feature films were curated from over 1500 submissions, with entries from nearly all 50 states and dozens of countries.
Returning programs this year include the the 8th Annual Golden Key for Excellence in Costume Design awarded to Jacqueline Durran for her work in “Barbie,” making KWFF the only such festival to annual honor this art; the 10th Annual Critics Panel, in which top film critics will join both in person to cover the seismic changes in the industry this year. Key West Citizen’s Shirrel Rhoades will moderate the panel featuring David Rooney, Stephanie Zacharek, Sam Adams and David Fear. And the 2nd Annual Golden Key for Documentary Excellence will be awarded to Oscar winner Sheila Nevins. Emmy winner Erin Lee Carr will moderate the discussion and a screening of Sheila’s THE ABCs OF BOOK BANNING, about the efforts of Florida school districts to ban books, will screen after the talk.
After kicking off the festival with a film about Priscilla Presley, the festival will screen “Reinventing Elvis,” recounting the King’s 1968 comeback special, as its traditional final screening on Sunday night, outdoors at The Perry Hotel and Marina in Stock Island.
About The Key West Film Festival
Honoring creativity, diversity, sustainability and beauty, the Key West Film Festival is an annual celebration of film and filmmakers set to take place November 15-19, 2023.
A diverse, entertaining and artistically rigorous selection of films will be represented through a broad array of categories that offer opportunities for filmmakers, both aspiring and established, to commune and exchange ideas while showing their work to audiences in an historic and artistically vibrant tropical paradise.
Films that have been showcased in the last five years of the festival have amassed over EIGHTY Academy Award nominations – six of which were for Best Picture – and sixteen Oscar wins, including two for Best Picture ( Spotlight and Shape of Water).