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DUELING CZECH PIC FESTS BATTLE FOR PIX, STARS

A summer film festival monopoly has turned into a contentious and heated tug of war between the old guard and the newcomer, with the temperature rising in Prague.

Golden Golem, the debuting Prague fest, is the first fest out of the gate, since it opened in the Czech Republic capital June 9 with international movie stars and high-profile execs winging into the storied city. Opening night featured Nikita Mikhalkov and his Oscar-winning pic “Burnt by the Sun.”

But the nearby Karlovy Vary fest – which last month lost its battle to retain its A category status to the Prague fest – momentarily stole the media spotlight with a strategically timed press conference June 7 – three days before the Golden Golem’s first night.

Now the big question for Czech star-gazers is whether Gina Lollobrigida and Mia Farrow at Karlovy Vary can outshine Prague’s film celebs: Meryl Streep, Cannes-winner Helen Mirren, Dennis Hopper and Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president Arthur Hiller.

Despite the fears of some outsiders that its 30th festival may be its last, Karlovy Vary’s managers refuse to give up easily. They’ve penciled in “Leon” by France’s Luc Besson as the opening night pic and slated some 150 films, including an impressive lineup of Eastern European titles. They’ve even got a segment spotlighting transvestites.

On the record, Karlovy Vary’s management plays a gentleman’s game, insisting, “We are not enemies.”

Behind the scenes, the gentleman’s rules hardly apply.

Distrib Barrandov blocked Prague’s planned showing of. “Death and the Maiden,” thwarting the fest’s plans for “Death’s” producer Thorn Mount to attend. Later, Karlovy Vary got the pic instead. (Barrandov topper Vaclav Marhoul has been allied with the Karlovy Vary forces in their effort to keep the A certificate.)

Golden Golem director Antonin Moskalyk – last year’s executive director of Karlovy Vary – is blunt about the bad blood. “I will not talk about Karlovy Vary,” he said when asked to compare the programs.

Karlovy Vary’s programmer Eva Zaoralova sniffed at the loss of the A ticket and the preponderance of the U.S. product and statesiders attending Prague, insisting, “We’re not after major American movies.”

Behind the scenes, loyalties are also being clearly mapped out. “We feel that the sentiment is with us,” said a Karlovy Vary staff member. “You have to choose sides,” said an East European programmer from another festival. She’ll be at Karlovy Vary this summer.

Steven Gaydos contributed to this report.

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