Europe’s first big international post-Cannes showcase of the year — the Karlovy Vary Film Festival — has a reputation for such a relaxed glamour that even occasional summer downpours do little to dampen spirits of guests and visitors.
While festival organizers face a worldwide economic recession that has taken a bite out of small, medium and large evetns, the Karlovy Vary honchos promise that the 44th festival in the Bohemian spa town — famed for its hot springs and classical colonnades — will be a vintage Vary.
With a mixture of government money and support from major sponsors that include the Czech Ministry of Culture, energy firms Skupina Cez and RWE and mobile phone platform Vodafone contributing to its budget, fest exec director Krystof Mucha says this year’s gathering won’t be an austere event.
“In many cases, the festival has concluded long-term agreements with sponsors. One company did pull out, but that was announced long beforehand and has no direct connection to the financial crisis. On top of that, we were able to fill the gap with other sponsors,” Mucha reports.
Karlovy Vary enjoys firm public and government support.
“The state, the town of Karlovy Vary, the Karlovy Vary region and, last but not least, our traditional festival sponsors are aware of the festival’s contribution, and they are all fundamentally still behind it despite the fact that things are now, of course, more difficult,” Mucha says.
Karlovy Vary retains its commitment to covering the expenses of filmmakers and industry figures to attend a festival where, despite the lack of a formal market, much business gets done at numerous parties, industry roundtables and other events.
A magnet for student backpackers — who camp out at a sports stadium or, in dry weather, in parks and squares — the fest feature 14 screening venues, none of which is more than a few minutes’ walk from the other.
It makes for a festival that is closer in atmosphere to freshman week at college than more-businesslike fests such as Berlin or more glossy ones like Cannes.
Those attached to the festival understand this, and sponsors have the wisdom to maintain their support for the generous incentives organizers offer film industry professionals to come join the party.
“Incentives are the same as they were last year. Filmmakers are invited at the festival’s expense,” Mucha says. “Thanks to the Industry Office, there are many activities prepared for them where they can present their projects and meet with agents and many others. The festival also invites at its own expense distributors from Central and Eastern Europe in order to give them another opportunity to see new, quality films as well as those that are in the development stage.”
The festival is keen to maintain its reputation as one of the most laid-back and public-friendly on the circuit, despite regular visits from such high-profile political figures as current Czech President Vaclav Klaus and the country’s celebrated former political detainee and first post-Communist president, Vaclav Havel.
Artistic director Eva Zaoralova has several regional hot picks in the mix this year.
“The Polish film ‘Swinki’ (Piggies) by director Robert Glinski seems very significant to me. He’s an experienced filmmaker who has already chalked up several awards — in 2001, ‘Hi, Tereska!’ took the Special Jury Prize at Karlovy Vary, and won other awards in Europe and the U.S.,” Zaoralova notes.
The film touches on a sensitive subject in Central Europe: sex tourism. Glinski’s film is set in a small Polish town separated from Germany by a river where German men go for clandestine sexual encounters with adolescent boys.
Zaoralova describes Glinski’s film as “incredibly authentic, in both its near documentary shooting style and its convincing performances.”
Other high-profile pics include Hungary’s “Nem vagyok a baratod” (I Am Not Your Friend) by Gyorgy Palfi, one of the new wave of young Magyar directors, who “sketches a picture of interpersonal relationships devastated by the desire for money and sex devoid of all inhibitions,” Zaoralova says.
French director Benoit Jacquot’s competition film “Villa Amalia,” starring Isabelle Huppert — who was jury president at this year’s Cannes — is another not-to-be-missed film, according to Zaoralova, who calls it “a truly gorgeous study of the search for new certainties and internal peace.”
In short, Karlovy Vary aims to retain its reputation as an event that unites art and social commentary — a vision long championed by festival president Jiri Bartoska.
As Zaoralova puts it: “Each year, so many movies appear in the festival program that appeal to young people, it is fair to call Karlovy Vary a cult destination for multiple generations — for those who were 20 in the 1990s as well as for those who are 20 today.”