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Karlovy Vary reaches maturity

Vet festgoers sense new feel in spa town

KARLOVY VARY — As the team that drove the Karlovy Vary Film festival renaissance celebrated their 10th year, festgoers sense a distinct gear shift into cruise mode.

That’s not to say fest president Jiri Bartoska and artistic director Eva Zaoralova are resting on their hard-won laurels. On the contrary. Now in its 38th edition, Karlovy Vary (which ends July 12) has established its place on the festival map. A core group of programmers, promotion outfits and critics are regular fixtures, and loyal Czech audiences consider the summer incomplete without the annual desperate search for scarce tickets at this otherwise relaxing spa town.

But along the way, there’s a growing sense of lost youth that comes with maturity. Karlovy Vary is no longer the feisty scrapper with a “we’ll show you” attitude that endeared it to locals and foreigners. A random poll of regular fest attendees cited the same two factors in contributing to this newfound feeling: no fresh faces, and the marginalization of the student audience that gave this fest its unique verve.

The lack of stars was glaring on the opening weekend. With John Hurt and Susan Sarandon cancelling out, that left Stephen Frears and Jiri Menzel (both picking up contribution to World Cinema awards at the July 4 opening ceremony), Kerry Fox and a contingent of Czech stars — a disappointing lineup for both press and crowds hoping for a splash of film glamour.

On the competition front, as one critic put it, “We’re still waiting for the break-out discovery.” Opening night Czech competition entry “Pupendo” by Oscar-nommed Jan Hrejbek received a warm but not overwhelming reception, despite its local box office megahit status.

On the commercial side, Austrian helmer Ruth Mader’s debut film, “Struggle,” picked up Czech theatrical distribution, while Christophe Loizillion’s “My Camera and Me,” overlooked in France, wowed audiences and was hotly pursued by upscale Czech distrib Cinemart.

Industry presence is noticeably stronger, helped by the increased activities of the Film Industry Office. Pace should pick up by midweek, with Gus Van Sant presenting his Palme d’Or winner “Elephant” and a handful of film production panels on the schedule.

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