When Karlovy Vary Film Festival’s East of the West competition opened to submissions from the Middle East two years ago, festival artistic director Karel Och noted it was “about time to abandon the political definition of the ‘East of the West’ countries,” long determined by the geographical boundaries hemming in the former Soviet bloc.
Though not the first time the section rewrote its borders — Greece, Turkey and Cyprus were also invited to compete several years ago — the decision was a clear sign that a competition long known for championing distinctive new cinematic voices was evolving to keep pace with the times.
This year’s selection is no exception, with formal experimentation and provocative storytelling marking many of the 12 films in competition. “We always try to put together a colorful selection, to combine films with different artistic approaches, various genres,” says programmer Lenka Tyrpakova. “We aim to discover distinctive auteur voices that are coming with a compelling report on the world around us.”
The East of the West competition opens this year with “Aga’s House,” from Kosovo’s Lendita Zeqiraj.
“Her debut feature is characterized by an impressive energy, empathy with her characters and authenticity with which she re-creates the vibrant world of her female protagonists,” Tyrpakova says.
Among the other highlights are “Certain Kind of Silence,” a psychological drama from rookie Czech director Michal Hogenauer, and “Mamonga,” which Tyrpakova describes as a “formally distinctive triptych” from Serbian director Stefan Malesevic. Saudi Arabia’s Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan also makes his feature debut with “Last Visit,” a film which looks at Islamic traditions.
Since its debut more than a decade ago, the East of the West competition has become an essential stop for buyers, sales agents and festival programmers looking to take the pulse of the region.
“We believe that both carefully selected new projects in the Works in Progress [industry program], as well as interesting premieres in the East of the West competition, are magnets for film professionals,” Tyrpakova says.
Last year the competition was a launching pad for Darya Zhuk’s wry, culture-clash comedy “Crystal Swan,” which enjoyed a strong festival run and was the first Belarusian entry into the foreign-language Oscar race in more than two decades. Other 2018 standouts included “Volcano,” the fiction debut of Ukraine’s Roman Bondarchuk, and “Pause,” by Cyprus’ Tonia Mishiali, which both traveled widely.