Marked by its bonhomous atmosphere, quaint setting and rich cuisine, the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival, unspooling its 41st edition this year, is considered one of the most pleasant film festivals on the summer calendar. In terms of programming, the Czech Republic’s biggest film fest may not have the same pulling power for big titles as Cannes or Venice, which flank it datewise, but its selection consistently entices industryites and auds looking for titles with a strong sense of place, made by a mixture of established names and up-and-coming filmmakers from around the world.
“We always look for films that are representative of the country they come from,” explains KV’s program director Julietta Zacharova. “That’s related to our policy of choosing just one film per country for the main competition. Sometimes we have to turn down films we might have considered because of that policy, but every year we have more submissions that are of competition quality, so the process has become more difficult.”
Zacharova is upbeat about the fact that six of the titles in the main competition, a list of 15 films eligible for the Crystal Globe, the fest’s top prize, are making their world bows in KV.
Local production is repped by “Beauty in Trouble” by helmer Jan Hrebejk, a study of a woman (local star Ana Geislerova) torn between lovers and dealing with her own complicated mother, played by Czech thesping legend Jana Brejchehova.
Other world premieres include Spanish-Argentine co-production “Destiny,” a “sad, ironical story suffused with black humor,” according to Zacharova, helmed by Mar del Plata fest prexy Miguel Pereira; tale of writing rivals “Reprise,” a debut for Norwegian helmer Joachim Trier; “Winter Journey,” the sophomore outing for German helmer Hans Steinbichler; “Frozen City,” Finnish helmer Aku Louhimies’ story of a divorce; and Bulgarian-German co-production “Christmas Tree Upside Down,” a crisscrosser set in Bulgaria from co-helmers Ivan Cherkelov and Vasil Zhivkov.
“Christmas Tree Upside Down” is one of two films from Bulgaria competing for prizes this year at KV, the other being the femme-centered three-parter “Monkeys in Winter,” a world bow from debutante helmer Milena Andonova, competing for East of the West Award in the festival’s increasingly important sidebar of the same name, which showcases Eastern European cinema.
Back in the main competition, the list of international premieres reps an intriguing mix of titles that have shown only at festivals in their countries of origin. There’s strong word of mouth already on the following pics: French drama “This Girl Is Mine,” marking the helming debut of Virginie Wagon, co-writer of Cannes contender “The Dream Life of Angels”; “Mouth to Mouth,” Swedish helmer Bjorn Runge’s follow-up to his well-traveled fourth feature “Daybreak,” which previously competed at KV; “Several People, Little Time” (previously known as “A Few People, A Little Time”), Pole Andrzej Baranski’s touching true-life-based tale of friendship between a blind woman and a poet; Maggie Gyllenhaal starrer “Sherrybaby,” which debuted at Sundance; and “Transit,” from Russian director Alexander Rogozhkin.
With Russian production experiencing a mini-boom at the moment on the back of several lucrative recent homegrown productions such as the “Night Watch” franchise and “9th Company,” it’s unsurprising the CIS is making a strong showing in the East of the West competition at KV with Alexei German Jr.’s “Garpastum,” Artem Antonov’s “Polumgla,” and two international premieres, Yuri Moroz’s “The Spot” and Kirghiz director Nurbek Egen’s “The Wedding Chest,” the last a co-production between Russia, Kirghizstan, France and Germany.
Zacharova notes that the festival has been “upgrading this competition each year, and we want it to be in the spotlight, acting as a bridge between East and West, just as the festival as a whole does.” She notes that Karlovy Vary is uniquely positioned to attract Western buyers, and the East of the West sidebar is instrumental in this role.