This year, the top prizes in Cannes sent a clear message to the international cinema community: From Palme d’Or winner “Winter Sleep” (Turkey) to Un Certain Regard favorite “White God” (Hungary) and “The Tribe” (Ukraine), above, the juries’ top picks demonstrate that anyone who thinks the most exciting voices in European cinema hail exclusively from Western Europe and the U.S., isn’t looking far enough East.
This revelation hardly comes as news to Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival artistic director Karel Och, whose team has long made it the Czech Republic-based event’s mission to champion filmmakers from the former Eastern Bloc and its neighbors — countries that had fallen in the blind spot of other major festivals for many years.
“Karlovy Vary functions as a bridge between the West and the East,” says Renate Rose, managing director of European Film Promotion, an org dedicated to touting talent in 34 European countries, not just those with robust, fully developed film industries. “For us, Karlovy Vary has been an important place to introduce Western films to East European press and audiences, just as you have sales agents and distributors who see films from Eastern Europe for the first time.”
Since 1989’s Velvet Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eastern audiences have expressed an intense hunger for Western cinema, but the interest wasn’t always reciprocated. During that time, Karlovy Vary served as a platform for emerging talents, such as Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa, who has screened eight films in Karlovy Vary since 2001, but did not play Cannes until “My Joy” was selected in 2010.
In addition to its main competition, Karlovy Vary hosts a juried East of the West showcase with the goal of encouraging first- and second-time filmmakers from Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Last year, the competition expanded to include Greece and Turkey.
Karlovy Vary can also be an important stop after Berlin or Cannes for Eastern gems that may have gotten lost in the shuffle — which Och hopes to do for Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s “The Tribe,” which swept all three prizes in Critics’ Week. “For me, ‘The Tribe’ was the cinematic event of the year,” says Och. “We will create a special event for this film because we consider it unique. Not everyone was in Cannes, and even for those who were, a film like this can get overlooked in a sidebar.”
That’s one reason Turkish film champ Ahmet Boyacioglu has made Karlovy Vary an essential stop on his annual festival calendar. Karlovy Vary is where he saw his favorite film of 2013 — Janos Szasz’s “The Notebook,” which went on to become Hungary’s Oscar submission — and why he agreed to chair this year’s East of the West jury.
Boyacioglu couldn’t be prouder of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s win in Cannes, which coincides with the centenary of Turkish cinema: “I am definitely sure after Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s award people will be more interested in Turkish film, the same way they were with Romanian film after ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days’ won.” But the Turkish industry depends on the support of other festivals as well, he insists.
“As I explain to filmmakers from the Mediterranean region, with Cannes, if Nuri Bilge Ceylan makes a film every year, they will never take your film because they only take one film from the Middle East.” Typically, scouts for Berlin and Cannes tend to latch on to one or two established voices from each region to the exclusion of new talent. On the other hand, he notes, “Karlovy Vary actually opens doors to no-name and newcomer directors.”