WHEN MOST PEOPLE DAYDREAM ABOUT quitting their jobs and moving to a tropical island, the most they accomplish is changing their computer wallpaper to a stock photo of turquoise water and palm trees. Some might even go so far as to book a cruise to someplace colorful and humid, gifting themselves a week’s worth of relief from their miserable lives before returning to their cubicle with sunburned shoulders and an iPhone full of beach selfies.
But for Brooke Christian, handing out souvenirs to colleagues at the water cooler just wasn’t going to cut it. Mr. Christian had been cooking up a plan to quit his job and move to a tropical island for a while, fueled by years of vacationing in Key West to visit his father, a longtime resident. It was a crazy, artsy plan, the kind of plan that has attracted dreamers and those fleeing the cold to Key West for decades: Mr. Christian wanted to start a film festival in the southernmost town … without going bankrupt.
This year, as a result of his optimism and doggedness, the Key West Film Festival will celebrate its fifth birthday, with a lineup of star-studded films, parties, panel discussions, awards ceremonies and celebrity appearances. The schedule is packed, beginning with a 6p.m. opening night showing at the San Carlos Institute on Nov. 16. Almost 30 scheduled films will follow, along with dozens of cultural events spread across the festival’s five-day run.
It seems impossible now, but five years ago, Mr. Christian had no idea he would one day be lauded as the founder and chairman of such a successful event. He wasn’t even sure it was financially feasible. From one angle, the plan had legs: Key West was an artsy tourist town, so why wouldn’t people travel to paradise to watch movies? On the other hand, Key West was known as an extraordinarily expensive place to buy a sandwich, never mind start a business, and the town’s schedule of special events was already over-saturated. “Key West has so many different sorts of festivals, there’s literally almost a festival every single week,” laughs Mr. Christian. It’s well known that competing for community and tourist attention in a town like Key West can leave even the savviest businessmen penniless.
It was, strangely, the French Embassy that convinced him to risk everything. While working as the vice president of a global translation services company in Washington, Mr. Christian learned that nearby Richmond, Va., was hosting a film festival — a French film festival, to be specific.
Why would a city almost 4,000 miles away from the land of crepes and creepy mimes host such a specific, esoteric event, one almost guaranteed to have a list of expenses larger than the size of Richmond’s erudite Francophile population? It turned out the French Embassy was providing a stipend, and Mr. Christian took the news as a kind of challenge: If Richmond, Va., could secure enough funding to make a French film festival financially viable, surely he could figure out a way to bring a film festival to South Florida’s creative hub.
This year, as a result of Mr. Christian’s optimism and doggedness, the Key West Film Festival will celebrate its fifth birthday with a lineup of star-studded films, parties, panel discussions, awards ceremonies and celebrity appearances. But for all the prestigious names associated with the event, one program stands out in particular: the Brett Ratner Florida Student Filmmaker Scholarship, which awards almost $10,000 toward film school tuition for two lucky student filmmakers. “A big part of the reason that the festival [was] started was to encourage filmmaking in the state of Florida,” he explains.
Floridian students aren’t the only ones slated to win big at this year’s festival: This year actor Burt Reynolds will be presented with the festival’s Golden Key Award For Career Achievement, in recognition of the Floridian’s diverse career. Continuing the tradition of awarding Floridians in the field, Fort Lauderdale native Mary Zophres, whose Oscar-nominated career of costume design for the Coen Borthers has made her a legend in the field, has been singled out for the Career Achievement Award as part of the festival’s new Costume Design Focus program — a perfect fit for Key West’s creative masquerade-loving community, notes director of programming Michael Tuckman. Often overlooked at film festivals in favor of the more traditional categories of honoring directors, actors and scriptwriters, the Key West festival’s choice to focus on costume design signals an intuitive connection between the team behind the festival, and the surrounding community it serves, summed up perfectly in the film festival’s mission statement to “showcase films that capture Key West’s essence: creativity, diversity, sustainability, and beauty.”
Though there are Floridians aplenty amid the lineup of award recipients, scholarship applicants, actors and filmmakers on this year’s festival schedule, Mr. Christian is adamant that the festival contains as many categories as possible, including foreign films, documentaries, LGBTQ cinema, films from this year’s Sundance festival and shorts. There are some heavy hitters — the punchy musical “La La Land” has begun amassing Oscar buzz already — and the cast list for opening night’s “20th Century Women” reads like a generational who’s who of narrative filmmaking: Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup and Annette Bening.
A post-show discussion curated and presented by Amy Nicholson of MTV News will kick off the festival’s successful Critic’s Focus program, which this year has added a new juried Critic’s Prize to the award lineup. When asked which film he is particularly eager to see, Mr. Christian points to Nov. 19th’s closing night spotlight “Manchester by the Sea,” whose critically acclaimed debut at this year’s Sundance Festival prompted a furious bidding war (in a somewhat shocking display of online media’s fight to contend with the big boys, it was Amazon Studios who eventually succeeded in beating out Universal Pictures, Lionsgate, Sony Pictures Classics and Fox Searchlight to score the rights to the celebrity-packed drama). “Our program director is not one to use hyperbole a whole lot, but when I heard him describe ‘Manchester by the Sea’ — it was pretty remarkable,” Mr. Christian admits.
But when asked to pick a favorite from this year’s list of film venues, Mr. Christian stalls. When pressed, he admits that “the acoustics in the San Carlos, for a big film, are pretty tough to beat, but honestly it’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child.” He’s not kidding: There are events scheduled to take place on the powdery sand of Southernmost Beach, the newly renovated Key West Theatre and Studios of Key West buildings, and even the Truman Little White House. Films vary in their appropriateness for children, although Mr. Christian and his team have made sure that this year’s festival has something for everyone.
The week’s events range in price — some are free, while most others hover between $12 and $15. Saturday’s 8:30 p.m. awards ceremony will cost you $95, while all-week and weekend passes are also available to those who’d like the freedom to attend as many events as possible.
The full lineup is as follows:
“20th Century Women” by Mike Mills, 2016, Opening Night
“Manchester by the Sea” by Kenneth Lonergan, 2016, Closing Night
COSTUME DESIGN FOCUS
“Hail, Caesar!” by Joel and Ethan Coen, 2016
“La La Land” by Damien Chazelle, 2016
TRIBUTE TO BURT REYNOLDS
“The Bandit” by Jesse Moss, 2016
“After Adderall” by Stephan Elliott, 2016
“Blood Stripe” by Remy Auberjonois, 2016
“The Daughter” by Simon Stone, 2016
“La La Land”
“Folk Hero and Funny Guy” by Jeff Grace, 2016
“Live Cargo” by Logan Sandler, 2016
“Youth in Oregon” by Joel David Moore, 2016
“Contemporary Color” by Bill Ross and Turner Ross, 2016
“Don’t Blink: Robert Frank” by Laura Israel, 2016
“The Islands and the Whales” by Mike Day, 2016
“Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent” by Lydia Tenaglia, 2015
“The Last Laugh” by Ferne Pearlstein, 2016
“The Rolling Stones Olé, Olé, Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America” by Paul Dugdale, 2016
“A Song for You: The Austin City Limits Story” by Keith Maitland, 2016
“Sour Grapes” by Reuben Atlas and Jerry Rothwell, 2016
“3” by Lou Simon, 2016
“Funeral Days” by Jon Weinberg, 2016
“Love and Hostages” by Javier Mayol, 2016
“Papa” by Shane Eason, 2016
“Welcome to This House” by Barbara Hammer, 2015
“Lamb” by Yared Zeleke, 2016
“Kalebagiak” by Daniel Calparsoro, Iñaki Camacho, Borja Cobeaga, María Elorza, Maider Férnandez, Isabel Herguera, Ekain Irigoien, Julio Medem, Gracia Querejeta and Luiso Berdejo, 2016. Curated by the San Sebastian Film Festival.
“Neruda” by Pablo Larraín, 2016 “One Week and a Day” by Asaph Polonsky, 2016 “Paris, Love, Cut” by Arnaud Viard, 2016
“King Cobra” by Justin Kelly, 2016 “Lovesong” by So-yong Kim, 2016 “Miles” by Nathan Adloff, 2016 “Slash” by Clay Liford, 2016 “Strike a Pose” by Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan, 2016
“Florida Short Film Showcase,” A selection of short films directed and produced by Florida filmmakers “2016 Sundance Short Films,” A selection of short films from this year’s Sundance Film Festival
For the full schedule of events, tickets, news about the festival and contact information, go to www.kwfilmfest.com. ¦