Eva Zaoralová, the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival’s artistic advisor and its artistic director for many years, has died, the festival confirmed Friday. Zaoralová was 89 years old.

Established in 1946, Karlovy Vary is one of the world’s oldest film festivals, and one of its most prestigious, considered to be the leading festival in Central and Eastern Europe. But in 1994, when a new team led by film journalist Zaoralová and actor Jiří Bartoška stepped in, as the festival’s artistic director and president, respectively, its fortunes had declined, after decades of political interference by the former communist regime. They tirelessly reshaped the stagnating festival into an event worthy of international attention. In 2010, Zaoralová stepped down as artistic director, with Karel Och taking the reins, and she has served as the festival’s artistic advisor ever since.

In a statement issued by the festival on Friday, Bartoška said: “Eva and I always liked to joke that our relationship was a kind of permitted second marriage. It lasted nearly 30 years. When you spend that much time creating something with someone, it is difficult to come to terms with the fact that the other person is no longer there, that the end is final.”

The festival presents some 200 new films each year, more than a third of which are world or European premieres, and its award, the Crystal Globe, is highly prized. Guests at the festival have included actors Robert Redford, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, John Malkovich, Harvey Keitel, Morgan Freeman, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Susan Sarandon, John Travolta, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere and Willem Dafoe, as well as directors William Friedkin, Stephen Frears, Oliver Stone and Franco Zeffirelli.

The festival attracts about 700 journalists, primarily from Central and Eastern Europe, and 13,000 audience members, with 140,000 tickets sold.

Its industry section, Eastern Promises, which seeks to discover promising filmmakers from Central and Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, attracts more than 1,300 distributors, sales agents, producers and festival programmers to the festival.

In 2010, the Czech Republic’s President Václav Klaus awarded her the Medal of Merit for her work in the field of culture. She and Jiří Bartoška were recipients of a Czech Lion for Extraordinary Contribution to Czech Cinema. The French government made her a Knight of the Order of Art and Letters, and in 2012 she was elevated to Officer. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Cannes Film Festival, she was presented with a plaque recognizing her for her many years of journalistic activities. She also received the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, and many other awards and commendations.

In 2020, Zaoralová received the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Culture Award for Contribution in the Field of Cinema and Audiovisual Work. The prestigious award was awarded to Zaoralová for her many years as the artistic head of the festival, and for her lifelong promotion of Czech films and filmmakers abroad. Health reasons prevented Zaoralová from accepting the award in person, so it was received in her name by Och.

Bartoška commented at the time: “Since taking over the Karlovy Vary festival, Eva and I have experienced so many things, and it is difficult to think of just a few moments to remember. In the beginning, we were both enthusiastic amateurs who approached everything with an open heart but without any practical experience. We ended up in some unpleasant situations and learned as we went along. After working together for more than a quarter century, I think I can say that we succeeded in building KVIFF into a respected brand name. And even though today’s programming team consists of her successors, onto whom she passed her experience, Eva remains an inseparable part of this team, its face. Without her, the Karlovy Vary festival would never have become what it is today.”