Higher-tech Czech fest under way

PRAGUE — The 32nd Karlovy Vary film festival entered the computer age with a sleek opening on Friday marked by expanded and modernized facilities.

At this granddaddy of East-meets-West fests, crowds greeted the arrival of American stars Jason Robards, Ellen Burstyn and Salma Hayek; U.S. helmers Robert Wise and Errol Morris; Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus; and German Oscar nominee Armin Mueller-Stahl, on hand to introduce the opening screening of “Shine.”

Meanwhile, new press facilities greeted some 200 foreign journalists, including 10 TV crews, many of them here to cover a wide selection of new and little- known films gathered from all corners of Eastern Europe.

The competition alone presents six world premieres, most of them from Central Europe. While it’s too soon to tell if Karlovy Vary will unearth the next “Kolya” or “Prisoner From the Mountains,” program director Eva Zaorlova drew early kudos for what looks like a promising lineup.

The fest also manages to pay increased attention to Hollywood product this year without sacrificing standards (e.g. last year’s closing nighter “Eddie”), although the inclusion of “Private Parts” in the competish has elicited some raised eyebrows.

Russian helmer Nikita Mikhalkov turned up with “Barber of Siberia” star Julia Ormond, fresh from their Prague shoot. Duncan Clark, president of Columbia TriStar Intl., made his first trek to the fest to present “Fools Rush In” prior to its general release here.

And sports fans were abuzz over the visit of the newly named most valuable player of the National Hockey League, Dominik Hasek from the Buffalo Sabres. They joined other opening weekend guests drawing media attention: Klaus Maria Brandauer, “Basquiat” star Jeffrey Wright and Polish star Boguslaw Linda.

The fight for screening tickets grew heated on opening day, when increased demand downed the ticketing system. The festival staff — which has been showing marked improvement in its service-oriented attitude — worked around the clock to get the system on track by the following afternoon.

With overflow crowds spilling down the aisles and out the doors, fest organizers scrambled to add extra press screenings to the schedule, which threatens to become as overcrowded as the suddenly bubbling social calendar.

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