How does a film fest spell success? With great difficulty: Presenting first-rate films isn’t enough if you want to be a force in the marketplace; too much emphasis on commerce won’t help you, if you want to be a boutique destination for serious cinemaniacs.

But that’s how the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival, which takes place June 29-July 7, has managed to finesse the pitfalls: By going a little bit this way, and a little bit that.

“It is obvious that nowadays you cannot organize a film festival without paying attention to its industry aspect,” says Karel Och, for whom the festival’s 47th edition will mark his second as artistic director. “On the other hand, it has to be said that as much as we realize the importance of the industry angle, we do not want to lose our label as a ‘filmmakers’ festival.’ ”

Och says more and more activities are being introduced as a part of the fest’s three industry days (“this year, for instance, they’re more focused on producers”). The festival’s well-established Works-in-Progress panel will continue to expose distributors, sales agents and programmers to Central and Eastern European films that are just-completed or in post-production. (“Last year, the Greek film ‘L’ was picked up here for Sundance’s World Dramatic competition.”).

At the same time, the fest’s m.o. — larding its other-than-competition programs with choice European fare — should continue to give Karlovy Vary cachet as a fest that makes quality a priority.

Och says discovering talent is an important role for a festival. “Nevertheless,” he adds, “I have always been convinced that quality programming is based on the capability to put together a distinctive group of interesting films, regardless of whether they are new or have played at a couple of festivals before.”

The top competition slates — the official selection and the East of the West program — include world, international or European premieres. However, “You can create a new context for an older film,” Och says. “Karlovy Vary has always been about films and about helping filmmakers to promote their films, instead of negotiating with them (as) premieres and so on.”

That the Czech Republic’s annual summer movie celebration is held in a spa town doesn’t hurt its drawing power: Peter the Great first came in 1711. More recently, an influx of Russians has influenced real-estate prices, restaurant menus and local politics, and while it could just be a coincidence, the recipient of Karlovy Vary’s Crystal Globe this year is a world-famous Russian actress, Helen Mirren, who, though synonymous with the British screen (and an Oscar-winning portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II), is nevertheless of Russian descent.

“I feel my eastern European roots very strongly,” Mirren says, “so, clearly, this adds to my feeling of achievement. It is always flattering to receive an honor — this coming from a nation of great filmmakers, with a tradition of great art films, is very meaningful.”

Mirren will be bringing “The Door,” the latest film by director Istvan Szabo, who led the Karlovy Vary jury last year. Much has been made of Mirren’s unglamorous look in the drama, but she says it was all in a day’s work.

“In many ways, this is a huge relief!” she says. “As an actress, your job is to inhabit many different characters, some plain-looking, and some more glamorous. The elements of European filmmaking that appeal to me are the stories and characters that reflect the realities of human life. It was this appeal that drew me to ‘The Door.’ ”

Also holding court will be Susan Sarandon, who on closing night will also receive a Crystal Globe.

Amidst the glamour of its more celebrated films and filmmakers, and its ongoing efforts to firm up its industry connections (particularly in the United States), Karlovy Vary will be busy championing auteurist cinema, especially from its own area of the world.

“There is definitely a much strong er emphasis on films from our region,” Och says. “The second competition, East of the West, is now officially specialized on brand-new first and second films by up-and-coming filmmakers from Central and Eastern Europe.”

Unexpectedly, he adds, this trademark section “was the easiest to program; we are impressed by the quality of debuts from our parts this year.”

Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival 2012 / World Report: Central Europe
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