KARLOVY VARY — Central Europe’s most respected fest opened Friday with considerably more than its usual star pull.
Auds praise fest mainly for its approachability and artistic merits, screening 220 films in nine days, the majority by little-known international helmers and helmer-scribes.
This year’s 40th edition has bulked it up, however, with Robert Redford introducing Czech auds to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” opening night, Matt Dillon closing the fest with “Factotum,” and Sarah Polley presenting Wim Wenders’ “Don’t Come Knocking.”
They join Michael Pitt, Jeremy Davies, Brad Renfro and LQ Jones on the guest roster, while Ali MacGraw serves on the main prize jury. Fest honors Redford, Sharon Stone, Liv Ullmann and Czech helmer Jiri Krejcik with lifetime achievement Crystal Globes while remaining steadfastly dedicated to introducing struggling artists from around the globe — and particularly the former East bloc.
A great admirer of Vaclav Havel, the playwright ex-president who was once jailed by the pre-Velvet Revolution regime, Redford paid his compliments to dissidents’ struggles at the opening night gala. “Artists have the power to effect change,” he said, after accepting the Crystal Globe. In what was then Czechoslovakia “artists took a stand. Great lessons can be learned from that.”
Fest’s Philip Morris-sponsored East of the West sidebar, elevated to an official competish this year has invested in struggling artists from countries that often get little or no support. Sidebar presents 14 films from the same parts of the world that Karlovy Vary once promoted “for different reasons” under the Soviet regime, quipped fest prexy Jiri Bartoska. Films like “Dallas Among Us,” a Hungarian-German-Austrian-Romanian co-prod by Adrian Robert Pejo that follows a Gypsy’s return to his village, and Serik Aprymov’s Kazakh-Japanese-French-Swiss-Dutch co-prod “The Hunter,” a myth-like tale of wolf stalking in the wild, show fest remains thoroughly in league with rebel artists.
Karlovy Vary’s usual over-the-top opening night ceremonies included 40 teenage girls standing on a huge birthday cake dressed as candles with heads alight, and Rio-style carnival production numbers that tied in with fest’s trailer. The traditional pre-film short this year focuses on a bleak young man’s youth under socialism, then the pressures of family and the free market, and finally doing handsprings with tropical-looking dancing girls in front of the fest’s home base, the Hotel Thermal. “Life begins at 40,” goes the tagline; metaphors, anyone?
Only light rain accompanied the opening, something easily shrugged off by the legions of backpacker auds from throughout Europe, many of whom camp out near the communist-era Thermal.