The Key West Film Festival pulls back the curtain this week on a range of movie premieres, from the high profile to the Florida-focused. In total, more than 115 films and virtual reality experiences, which include shorts, will be part of the five-day festival that begins Nov. 20 and ends on the 24th. Opening night is ambitiously programmed with the three-and-half-hour Martin Scorsese film The Irishman. Meanwhile, closing night is capped by the latest from rising indie film director Trey Edward Shults, Waves, a film shot in South Florida receiving a lot of buzz.
Other highlights the fest will treat as “Centerpiece Presentations,” including Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story and Destin Daniel Cretton’s Just Mercy. On the other side, the festival has always shown incredible support to aspiring filmmakers. The first films they are showing right after opening night are shorts by students at the Tropic Cinema, Key West’s downtown indie multiplex. There are Florida-focused documentary shorts, student shorts and world cinema shorts to choose from. You can find the full event schedule here: kwfilmfest.com/event-schedule.
The festival is also about high profile filmmakers. Tom Skerritt will attend and receive the festival’s prestigious Golden Key Award. Screening at the festival to celebrate the actor will be the 40th Anniversary of Alien. Director Kimberly Peirce will also appear and accept her own Golden Key. She will present a 20th anniversary screening of her Oscar-winning feature debut, Boys Don’t Cry. Finally worth noting, the fourth annual Golden Key for Costume Design will go to Arianne Phillips, whose most recent job was for Quentin Tarantino and his new film, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, which we reviewed. A Single Man will screen for its 10th anniversary in celebration of her work.
There will also be movies chosen by and introduced by noteworthy film critics. The acclaimed new movie The Farewell will be part of these special screenings. It was made by Lulu Wang, a director who grew up in Miami and we’ve interviewed on two occasions (The Farewell director Lulu Wang on mixing screwball humor with pathos; Posthumous director Lulu Wang on the inspiration of Berlin and balancing comedy and drama). Wang will appear via Skype to chat with Jen Yamato of the Los Angeles Times. There’s also a special screening of the Netflix documentary American Factory, which will be hosted by K. Austin Collins of Vanity Fair.
If there’s one thing that’s unique about this festival is how highly it regards movie critics, and I’ve been honored to participate every year for the past four years. Speaking of, for this writer’s part, I will begin my visit taking part in the critic’s panel on Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. at the Viva Saloon with Eric Kohn, Executive Editor and Chief Critic of IndieWire; David Fear, Senior Editor and critic at Rolling Stone; Eugene Hernandez, Co-Publisher of Film Comment; Monica Castillo of RogerEbert.com; Tomris Laffly of Variety and Shirrel Rhoades of Adams Publishing Group. It’s always a wonderful opportunity to reflect on a new year in movies as well as the current state in film criticism. I’ll have a big announcement during the talk, which I have yet to hint at here, but this announcement will greatly influence the state of this site. You’ll have to be there though!
I will also participate in leading three Q&A sessions at the festival. The first happens Friday, after the critics panel. Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn is a documentary about the prosecutor in the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were put to death in the U.S. on the same day during the Cold War as Soviet spies in 1953. Their granddaughter Ivy Meeropol made the documentary. She’s carrying on the work of her father, Michael Meeropol, who has long striven to clear his parents’ names of the accusations they were convicted and subsequently executed for.
Then, on Saturday afternoon, I will lead a discussion about After Parkland, a feature documentary about the Parkland shooting here in South Florida, and a news story I documented as it unfolded at my day job in journalism that I never speak of here. That screens at 2:30 in the afternoon. Filmmakers Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman as well as some special guests, including at least one survivor of the massacre that claimed 17 lives and injured 17 others, will appear. I chose to take this job because I think it’s bound to be an important conversation with resonance beyond cinema.
Finally, on Sunday, I’ll support two dear friends in their screening. Kenny Riches’ A Name Without a Place will screen after Yonca Talu’s short “Where’s the Fire.” Both the feature and the short have surrealistic leanings that I love to see explored in cinema. It should be a fun way to close a dynamic film festival. For event passes, visit this link: kwfilmfest.com/2019-festival-passes.