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AFI FEST 2023 Unveils World Premiere of Sam Esmail’s “LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND” as Opening Film

AFI Film festival

The American Film Institute (AFI) has made a thrilling announcement that is sure to set the cinematic world buzzing. The 37th edition of AFI FEST will commence with the highly anticipated World Premiere of “LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND,” a gripping apocalyptic thriller written and directed by AFI Conservatory Alum Sam Esmail, a distinguished graduate from the AFI Class of 2004. This exciting revelation has cinephiles and industry insiders alike eagerly awaiting the festival’s opening night.

Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by Rumaan Alam, “LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND” boasts an impressive ensemble cast, including Academy Award® winner Julia Roberts, Academy Award® winner Mahershala Ali, Academy Award® nominee Ethan Hawke, and rising stars Myha’la, Farrah Mackenzie, Charlie Evans, and Kevin Bacon. The film is a joint production by Esmail Corp, Red Om Films, and Higher Ground Productions in collaboration with Netflix Studios. The red carpet premiere screening is scheduled for Wednesday, October 25, 2023, at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.

Bob Gazzale, AFI President and CEO, expressed the institute’s pride in presenting Sam Esmail’s latest creation, stating, “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. 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.”

“LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND” promises to be a gripping apocalyptic thriller that explores the depths of human nature when confronted with a rapidly deteriorating world. The film follows Amanda (Julia Roberts) and her husband Clay (Ethan Hawke), who rent a luxurious home for a weekend getaway with their children. However, their peaceful vacation takes a harrowing turn when two strangers, G.H. (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la), show up in the middle of the night, claiming that the house is theirs and seeking refuge from a mysterious cyberattack. As tension escalates and the threat looms larger, the two families must confront their own fears and make impossible choices in a world on the brink of collapse.

AFI FEST 2023 is scheduled to take place from October 25 to 29, 2023, at the TCL Chinese Theatres in the heart of Hollywood. The five-day festival will once again offer a curated selection of Red Carpet Premieres, Special Screenings, World Cinema, Documentaries, and Short Films.

Film enthusiasts can secure their spots at this cinematic extravaganza by purchasing AFI FEST film festival passes, with options including the FEST Pass and the Premium FEST Pass. The Premium FEST Pass offers access to all screenings, priority screening selection, exclusive access to the AFI FEST Festival Lounge and Festival Mixer, and AFI FEST merchandise. Meanwhile, the FEST Pass includes access to all screenings (excluding Red Carpet Premieres), early screening selection, access to the AFI FEST Festival Lounge, and festival merchandise. Pass availability is limited, so interested attendees are encouraged to act swiftly.

To support the American Film Institute and gain access to FEST passes and unique opportunities at AFI FEST, film aficionados can join AFI’s Premiere Circle. For more information, contact

The excitement is building, and AFI FEST 2023 promises to be an unforgettable celebration of cinema, kicking off with the mesmerizing “LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND” on its opening night.


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