The third annual Key West Film Festival took place from November 12th through 16th in the most southern point of the USA, one of the most romantic and also weirdest places on earth. My first encounter with a Kew West bar was not unlike the Chalmun’s Cantina scene in Star Wars and it wasn’t even Fantasy Fest. This is not the vibe the Key West Film Festival puts forward, under the thoughtful guidance of Programming Director, Michael Tuckman and Executive Director, Stephen Ananicz, the festival’s goal is to capture the diversity, creativity, sustainability and beauty of the Keys and with over 30 diverse films this year, it was exuberantly met.
“I’m immensely grateful and proud that in only KWFF’s third year, it’s truly becoming embraced by the South Florida film community as a festival on the Florida circuit that you do not want to miss. I personally thought it would take us 10+ years to achieve this caliber of films and guests. The fact that you can participate in a panel of Academy Award winners and end up at a dive bar with them across the street… that laid back vibe and accessibility can only be found at KWFF,” said Stephen Ananicz.
Program Director, Michael Tuckman is the owner of Tuckman Media and also an alumni of ThinkFilm, a small movie distributor that shook up the indie world with films like “Half Nelson” and “Taxi on the Dark Side” before it folded in the financial crisis of 1998. As the New York Times put it, ThinkFilm continues to be a force in the industry through the achievements of its founders, who continue to collaborate with each other, even if not under the same umbrella. It’s clear that under Michael, from the onset, the Festival has attracted really interesting projects and creators- last year John Waters, Shane Carruth, Terry George, Billy Corben and Paul Haggis and this year actress Marisa Tomei and directors Angus McLachlan, Sebastian Junger and Leon Ichaso, among others. Pair that with the intimate settings of the screening rooms, where the audiences are thrilled to get the chance to peek into the creator’s thought process, this Festival will only grow.
“The increase in Q&A’s and panel discussions throughout the five-day festival is a direct reflection of our mission to always connect our audiences with filmmakers,” said Brooke Christian, who was the inspired founder of the Festival, his family having vacationed in the Keys for twenty years.
Speaking of the screening venues, they are charming. The three-screen indie theater, the Tropic Cinema, partially founded by writer Jean Carper and retired law professor George Cooper, husband of author Judy Blume, is beautiful and infused with the laid back Keys attitude. This year the Festival introduced a new venue, the Eaton Theater, which has the feel of a cabaret meet church, tables and chairs, with wood beamed high ceilings. It was a perfect setting for Mala Mala, a powerful account of the reality of 9 trans-identifying individuals in Puerto Rico, directed by Dan Sickles & Antonio Santini. It premiered at Tribeca last spring. The documentary was followed by a performance of one of the subjects of the film, drag queen ZAHARA.
Now to my favorite topic: a festival needs to represent local films, who else will champion the filmmakers of that region. The Key West Film Festival intentionally does that. The winner of Best Florida went to the thirteen-year labour of love documentary The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest. Mark is otherwise known as the Houdini of Florida prisons — seven of them successfully – now after more than thirty years in the Florida prison system and possibly wrongfully convicted, will be up for a parole. The winner of the best documentary award, was the locally themed An Honest Liar, based on the story of James “The Amazing” Randi, a Hollywood, FL resident whose feats of magic, escape and trickery has been copied by charlatan faith healers and psychics.
Short films were prominently featured with three programs of films made by South Florida filmmakers, curated by Kareem Tabsch, co-founder of the art house O Cinema and Quincy Perkins, a local filmmaker. Three of the short docs were created by Indie Film Club members. Congratulations to Kenny Riches for winning the Best Florida Short Audience Award.
“The Key West Film Festival is committed to highlighting, supporting and celebrating the film and filmmakers, who call the Sunshine state their home,” said Kareem Tabsch.
If you are a South Florida filmmaker, it is a wise choice to submit your work for consideration. The festival’s importance will only grow and it’s already a fantastic place to meet some of your favorite directors and writers, as well as media and distribution professionals in an intimate setting. As for the audiences, next year when you plan your four days in the Keys, just skip Fantasy Fest and pick the Key West Film Festival.
Here is a list of the 2014 winners:
Key West Film Festival
☆ BEST NARRATIVE FILM
Life Partners, Directed by Susanna Fogel
☆ BEST LGBT FILM
South Beach on Heels, Directed by Dmitry Zhitov
☆ BEST DOCUMENTARY
An Honest Liar, Directed by Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein
☆ TRANSPERFECT AWARD FOR BEST FOREIGN FILM
Human Capital, Directed by Paolo Virzi
☆ UNIVERSAL PROPERTY & CASUALTY INSURANCE AWARD FOR BEST FLORIDA FILM
The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest, Directed by Gabriel London
☆ GOLDEN KEY AWARD FOR CAREER ACHIEVEMENT
☆ BEST FLORIDA SHORT AUDIENCE AWARD
Isip The Warrior, Directed by Kenny Riches
☆ BEST KEY WEST HIGH SCHOOL SHORT
Fall From the Top, Presented to Ed Smith