AFI FEST 2023 runs October 25 through October 29; AFI Conservatory Alum Sam Esmail’s ‘LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND’ to open the festival while Bradley Cooper’s ‘MAESTRO’ to close the festival

By Oliver Carnay

The 37th edition of AFI FEST will have the World Premiere of AFI Conservatory Alum Sam Esmail’s (AFI Class of 2004) ‘LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND’ as its Opening Night Film.  Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by Rumaan Alam, the highly anticipated apocalyptic thriller stars Academy Award® winner Julia Roberts, Academy Award® winner Mahershala Ali, Academy Award® nominee Ethan Hawke, Myha’la, Farrah Mackenzie, Charlie Evans and Kevin Bacon, and is produced by Esmail Corp, Red Om Films and Higher Ground Productions from Netflix Studios. The Opening Night Red Carpet Premiere screening will take place Wednesday, October 25th at 7:00 p.m., at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd.
“Leave The World Behind” still

In this apocalyptic thriller, Amanda (Julia Roberts) and her husband Clay (Ethan Hawke), rent a luxurious home for the weekend with their kids, Archie (Charlie Evans) and Rose (Farrah Mackenzie). Their vacation is soon upended when two strangers — G.H. (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la) — arrive in the night, bearing news of a mysterious cyberattack and seeking refuge in the house they claim is theirs. The two families reckon with a looming disaster that grows more terrifying by the minute, forcing everyone to come to terms with their places in a collapsing world.

“Sam Esmail is a commanding voice in the new generation of cinematic storytellers, and we are proud to present the World Premiere of his new film at AFI FEST,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI President and CEO. “That he is a graduate of the AFI Conservatory only adds to the pride we feel in celebrating this accomplishment – which is both powerful and profound.”

Bradley Cooper’s MAESTRO will close AFI FEST 2023. MAESTRO is a towering and fearless love story chronicling the lifelong relationship between Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) and Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein (Carey Mulligan). A love letter to life and art, MAESTRO at its core is an emotionally epic portrayal of family and love. The film reunites Cooper with Oscar®-nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique (AFI Class of 1992) and is co-written by Cooper and Oscar® winner Josh Singer (SPOTLIGHT). Producing alongside Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Cooper are Fred Berner, Amy Durning and Kristie Macosko Krieger. MAESTRO will screen as the Closing Night Red Carpet Premiere at AFI FEST on Sunday, October 29, 2023, at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. 


“MAESTRO displays Bradley Cooper’s symphony of talent with the power of a cymbal crash,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI President and CEO. “It is AFI’s honor to shine a light upon this extraordinary work of art on the festival’s Closing Night.”

The five-day festival will once again include a curated selection of Red Carpet Premieres, Special Screenings, World Cinema, Documentaries and Short Films.

Passes to AFI FEST are on sale at Festivalgoers have the opportunity to select either a FEST Pass or a Premium FEST Pass. The Premium FEST Pass includes access to all screenings including Red Carpet Premieres, priority screening selection and theater access, access to the AFI FEST Festival Lounge and Festival Mixer, and AFI FEST merch. The FEST Pass features access to all screenings (excluding Red Carpet Premieres), early screening selection and theater access, access to AFI FEST Festival Lounge and AFI FEST merch. Learn more at   

For more information, films slated in the festival, how to fest and get tickets, please go to