KARLOVY VARY, Czech Rep. — Richard Gere struck a political note at Friday’s opening of the 50th edition of the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic, where he received an award. Gere paid tribute to the Dalai Lama, while also taking a side-swipe at China.
Gere, who received the festival’s Crystal Globe for outstanding contribution to world cinema, mentioned that as well as being Karlovy Vary’s anniversary, this year marked the 80th birthday, on July 6, of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet.
Gere congratulated the Czech people on having a former president like the late Vaclav Havel, who had welcomed the Dalai Lama to his country when many other political leaders had not done so for fear of upsetting China, which controls Tibet.
“One of the extraordinary things is — in a world that is almost totally controlled by the Chinese communist government right now — Vaclav Havel invited his Holiness to come here, be photographed with him, spend time with him, loved him, embraced him, and he was one of the very few people, and it was certainly one of the very few countries, that did that,” Gere said.
“So I’m going to thank him, but I want to thank all of you for honoring and having such an extraordinary president, who continually did things like that. And hopefully the Czech Republic, the great Czech Republic, will continue to do these extraordinary, wonderful things,” he said, greeted by applause and cheers from the audience.
In his speech, Gere also honored the thousands of cast and crew members who have worked on his movies, “who deserve this just as much as I do because if any one of them had messed up I wouldn’t be here right now. I love the fact that we do all this together,” he said. “And whether we are telling the stories or watching the stories it is the same universe. And hopefully it is a universe of responsibility, one that says we can make any story we want. We have to do the work but we can create, and make, and live in any story that we want. So let’s make a story that is peaceful, that’s generous, that’s joyous, that’s loving, that’s sexy, that’s fun, that we all can inhabit together.”
In noting the big anniversary, festival president Jiri Bartoska said 50 years is not long in a human life “but 50 years is a long time for a cultural event.”
Embracing the fest’s jubilee, the opening ceremony featured an ironic, partly animated documentary best-of, recounting its origins during the Cold War and the tug-of-war that ensued between the Soviet-backed Czechoslovak government and film artists. Audiences witnessed Czech Oscar winner Jiri Menzel being feted in the late ’60s and then having his work banned, while Milos Forman, who emigrated to the West, was also lauded when returning to Karlovy Vary. His cinematographer, Miroslav Ondricek, who died earlier this year, was also honored year after year as the fest gained more international credibility and prestige. This sequence of archive footage culminated with a clip from 1995 in which Bartoska fetched Mia Farrow a beer.
Following the opening, the west Bohemian spa town itself served as the venue for a massive open-air party. Revelers and rock bands filled historic buildings where natural hot springs have been used to treat maladies for centuries while Karlovy Vary’s promenade, lined with pillared halls, hosted crowds of Czech backpackers alongside producers in tuxes and actresses in ball gowns. The street party replaced the usual tradition of a formal gala at the ornate GrandHotel Pupp.
A record hot spell is predicted for the festival, which wraps July 11, but with its “Starring You” theme and handy collection of pools, baths and bars, surging crowds will surely find ways to keep cool at one of the country’s biggest summer events.