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Glitches don’t tarnish Prague’s Golden Golems

Never mind the nay-sayers, the first Prague Intl. Film Festival is now in the history books. It may be a surprise even to those championing the fest from inception to completion, but most of what its organizers promised actually materialized in the Czech Republic capital, while the predicted rain stayed away.

The closing ceremony on June 18 capped the event, which began June 9, with a gala awards celebration for the world’s newest “A” category competition. Held at the Brezhnev-era Palace of Culture, a daunting edifice that never caught on with the movie-going public here, the first Golden Golems, as the fest’s awards are called, were presented to a packed Congress Hall filled with local dignitaries and foreign celebrities, including Helen Mirren, Dennis Hopper and Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov. The Golems are fashioned after the legendary Prague creature from local Yiddish lore.

A special jury prize was given to the film “Cooperative Politburo,” by director Michail Ptashuk from Belarus. Best actor nod went to Miki Manojlovic for the U.K./France/Germany co-production “Someone Else’s America,” by East Euro director Goran Paskaljevic. Czech actress Andrea Elsnerova grabbed the female acting honors for her role in “The Order,” directed by fellow Czech filmmaker Peter Hvizd.

Debuting French director Christine Varriere took the helming honors for her film “Rosine,” while best pic honors went to the Chinese entry “Sweet Grass,” by director Zhou Youchao.

Fraught with financial difficulties and a fractious quarrel with former Czech “A” certificate fest Karlovy Vary, the first Prague Fest wrapped up as something of a triumph, even if the competition lineup was generally perceived as less-than stellar and the fest was plagued with snafus.

Meryl Streep’s midweek appearance threatened to steal the show from the fest’s more serious business, as did the continuing turf quarrel between Prague and Karlovy Vary. While Streep brought welcome international focus to the event, there was a not-so-welcome downside to her visit. With her kids in attendance, Streep asked local paparazzi not to photograph her children for security reasons. Not only did the papers run page one photos of her kids, but one printed a caption that said the actress “did not want this photo in any newspapers for security reasons.” Each day’s local papers also carried new stories about the crisis at Karlovy Vary, with reports of funding fallouts challenged and amplified.

But for all of the disorganized press conferences, screening cancellations and less-than-choice pics on display, Prague’s

first-ever fest also offered some memorable moments and an exchange of filmmakers and industry figures that will surely reap rewards down the road.

Local papers lauded the inclusion of a slate of U.S. indie films brought by program assistant Stephanie Beroes, noting that it offered an alternative to the usual Hollywood fare. Prague’s U.S. representative, Pavlina Solo, reported that “more than 100” U.S. film figures attended.

Directors such as Taylor Hackford, Alan J. Pakula, Alfonso Cuaron, Karel Reisz, Graeme Clifford and Mark Rydell were introduced to or updated on the Czech film scene.

Add to that premieres of several films, including U.S. indie filmmaker Karl Slovin’s “Captive,” and you have the makings of a fest both as amusing and exciting as Prague’s companions in “A” status, Cannes, Berlin and Venice.

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