Fest Czechs out a winner

KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic — The 32nd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival wrapped Saturday night in this historic Czech Republic spa town with a gala black tie event that celebrated not only the winners of the fest, but the survival and triumph of the fest that itself competed for the last two years with the now-defunct Prague Film Fest.

That event’s demise has led to the elimination of a resource-sapping and audience-draining rival as well as the restoration of the coveted FIAPF “A” status to its original owner, Karlovy Vary. Fest top prize winner, Alain Berliner’s Belgian-French co-prod “Ma Vie En Rose,” reaped the reward of claiming a trophy from a fest both venerable and re-sanctioned.

Ticket sales for the fest boomed from an impressive 80,000 last year to a landmark 130,000, fueled by an aggressive promotional campaign and programming that included plenty of films with appeal to the gen-X Czechs. Attendance for the main theater screenings boasted 95% attendance, with 39 out of 45 screenings selling out. Among the top turnstile spinners were the Czech premiere of David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” and co-winner of the Public Award (voted by the audiences), “Private Parts,” Betty Thomas’ ribald biopic of radio shockjock Howard Stern, which was also making its Czech bow. The obscenity-laced opus was ironically tied with “Forgotten Light,” a serious Czech study of the life of a country priest enduring oppression and a crisis of faith.

The Stern opus was also the subject of fest buzz as it was a surprising, if not stunning, entry in the official competition, and speculation was rife that local distrib Bonton leveraged their delivery of eight U.S. pics to get “Parts” a competition slot. Stern once again got the last laugh on detractors as the film received a thunderous ovation and generated positive vibes among both the youthful local auds and more senior critics and viewers who praised its originality and rebellious spirit. Its anti-bureaucratic authority bent may make its local bow in August a winner in this country still smarting from decades of oppression and Red tape.

In addition to “Rose’s” top prize, award winners included:

Special Jury Award: David Trueba’s “The Good Life” (Spain)

Best Actor: Boleslav Polivka, “Forgotten Light” (Czech)

Best Actress: Lena Endre, “Christmas Oratorio” (Swedish)

Best Director: Martine Dugowson, “Chinese Portraits” (French)

Public Award (tie): Vladimir Michalek’s “Forgotten Light” and “Private Parts”

Special Jury Mention: Jayaraaj’s “Desadanam” (Indian)

Lifetime Achievement Award: Milos Forman

Intl. Documentary Award: (tie) Miroslav Janek’s “The Unseen” (Czech) and Warner Schweitzer’s “Noel Field – The Fictitious Spy” Swiss)

FIPRESCI Prize: Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s “Devil’s Island” (Icelandic)

Ecumenical Jury Prize: “Forgotten Light,” honorable mentions to Goran Rebic’s “Jugofilm” (Austria) and “The Unseen”

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