The 'African Queen,' released in 1951, starred Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn. The original vessel used in that film has been restored and now carries passengers from a dock at the Key Largo Holiday Inn.
When the movie "Key Largo" first hit theaters in 1948, the Bogie-Bacall classic drew an influx of visitors to the namesake island. Sixty-five years later, the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce and the Bogart Family Estate hope to repeat history with the first annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival Thursday, May 2 through Sunday, May 5.
Hosted by Stephen Humphrey Bogart, the son of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, the festival will feature a cocktail party, 38 film screenings, workshops with movie professionals, a memorabilia exhibit, rides on the original African Queen and the formal Bogart Ball.
Well-known film critic, Leonard Maltin, will appear as a special guest.
While the idea of a Bogart-themed event has been explored in the past by the Key Largo Chamber, licensing issues proved to be a challenge. Two years ago, the possibility was revisited--this time as a film festival. Local attorney and chamber board member, Russ Yagel, offered to reach out again to the Bogart Family Estate. Partnering with the estate, the chamber created a joint entity, Bogart Film Festival LLC, to produce the event.
"Truly what changed was the dynamics of the individuals representing the estate," Yagel said. "There's an organic connection between the film Key Largo and the island. When you throw the African Queen into the mix, it makes Key Largo a pretty good place to have a Bogart film festival."
Bogart agreed that timing was a huge factor in getting the festival off the ground. "The sun and the stars just kind of came together," he said. "The chamber was in a position to really come on board and be involved, and Key Largo is the obvious place because of my mother and father's movie."
He added that social media activity--35,500 followers on Twitter and 222,800 likes on Facebook--showed that fans around the world were still passionate about the film icon.
The festival opens on Thursday, May 2 with a cocktail reception and an outdoor screening of Key Largo at the bayfront Murray Nelson Center. Bogart and Maltin will be on hand for the opening remarks.
"Stephen and Leonard couldn't be more supportive," said Craig Cope, president of the Key Largo Chamber. "Stephen wants to maintain the legacy of his father and introduce that to new generations. Leonard has a personal connection and is a fan of Bogart's movies."
Bogart said that he looks forward to giving the events a personal touch, introducing films and participating in question-and-answer sessions with the fans.
"I enjoy meeting the people," he said. "I'm doing an autograph signing on Saturday (May 4), and people bring all sorts of stuff. It's kind of neat to see what they have."
More outdoor screenings are scheduled throughout the weekend at the Murray Nelson Center and Founders Amphitheater in Islamorada. Event coordinator Suzanne Holmquist said that the Bogart Family Estate pushed for the outdoor screenings in order to highlight the tropical beauty that makes Key Largo a unique destination.
"You can go to film festivals anywhere, but what's so special about Key Largo is our beautiful scenery and water," Holmquist said.
Other venues for screenings include B&B Theaters Tavernier Cinema 5, Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo Bay Marriot Beach Resort and Hilton Key Largo Resort.
The overall festival theme is film noir, a genre in which Bogart excelled during Hollywood's classic film noir period of the 1940s and 1950s. Movie screenings will include 10 Bogart films and 10 other iconic films within the genre. Maltin will give a presentation at the festival's signature event, the Bogart Ball, on the actor's trademark persona-the hard-boiled cynic with a noble side.
A Casablanca-themed formal event, the ball will be on Saturday, May 4, at the Hilton Key Largo Resort, overlooking Florida Bay. The evening will start with a red carpet cocktail reception in a casino setting, followed by a Moroccan-themed dinner and dancing.
In 1951, Bogart gave an Oscar-winning performance as the captain of a steamer called the African Queen. The boat was recently restored, and festivalgoers will be able to book trips on it throughout the weekend at the Holiday Inn. This will also be the festival headquarters and site of a free Bogie memorabilia exhibit.
Yagel said that so far people from 26 states and five different countries have purchased tickets to the festival. He added that they anticipate attracting an affluent crowd that has a taste for the classics.
Cope noted tickets to the larger events like the kick-off reception and the Bogart Ball were already selling very quickly.
"Outdoor events are also very popular," he added. "They start at 9 p.m. when it's nice and cool. They offer that kind of drive-in theater experience many people like me had growing up. Enjoying these movie classics in the open air right by the water, I don't think you could ask more." Visit bogartfilmfestival.com for more information and to buy tickets.