46th edition of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival brings celebrities, film enthusiasts and industry professionals to west Bohemian spa town

Photo: Štěpánka Budková

For the 46th time, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival kicked off on July 1st. As every year, celebrities and hordes of young film enthusiasts alike flocked to the west Bohemian spa town. Among the famous visitors this year are the legendary British actress Judi Dench and American actor John Turturro. Sarah Borufka was at the festival and has this report.

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
The arrival of the legendary British film and theater actress Judi Dench at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival on Friday was certainly the highlight of the 46th edition of the festival, which kicked off in the picturesque west Bohemian spa town that day.

Along with presenting a new adaptation of Jane Eyre, directed by Carry Joji Fukunaga, in which she appears, Judi Dench also was awarded the Crystal Globe award for her outstanding contribution to world cinema. Here is what the veteran actress said upon receiving it.

“I am so pleased to be here, I have been to the Czech Republic several times before. I actually have relatives who live in Prague, but I’ve never been to Karlovy Vary. And I am so pleased to be here tonight and get this wonderful award.”

Judi Dench,  photo: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary
Mrs. Dench also held a news conference the following day. She managed to charm everyone with her sense of humor and her humility. Her response to the question of whether receiving yet another award after having gotten so many is still a special feeling:

“As Sir John Gielgud once said to me, if you get a prize, or you get very good notices for something, you may enjoy them for the day you get it, but then after that, perhaps you should then forget it and you get on with the whole process of honing your craft and getting it better.

“But it ‘s wonderful to get something and this one, I just thought last night, looks very beautiful standing next to an Oscar because it looks like his wife. They look very good together, so I shall introduce her as soon as I get home.”

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
The nine-day festival does not only draw celebrities, filmmakers and, of course, hordes of movie enthusiasts to the quaint town. It also is an important event for film professionals such as Will Tizard, the Czech and Slovak correspondent for the leading movie industry magazine Variety. He told me that he was really looking forward to another celebrity guest set to appear here on Friday afternoon, ahead of the closing ceremony on Saturday.

“A favorite of mine, John Turturro, is going to be arriving any time now, from all the Coen brothers films. He has an incredible range. I got to meet and talk to Burt Young, one of the classic crime film character actors the other days. I think people really love these interesting actors, I think they are more interested in these actors than say, the superstars, personally.”

John Turturro,  photo: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary
John Turturro will be presenting the film Somewhere Tonight, which will have its world premiere here at the festival, and will be receiving the President’s Award. His appearance is highly anticipated and should be another highlight of this year’s festival.

While it brings some seasoned actors and directors to Karlovy Vary, this year’s edition of the festival also features a surprisingly large amount of films by first-time directors. When I met up with Lenka Tyrpáková from the festival’s programming department, I asked her if that was a conscious decision.

“Of course, we try to discover new young filmmakers, but in a way, it was also a coincidence, that about a fourth of the films are by first-time directors. We are happy about this.”

Besides the main competition, the documentary competition and the section East of the West, in which Eastern and Central European directors compete for an award, the festival also presents interesting movies in the form of retrospectives and non-competitive sections. One, for example, is devoted to young Greek directors, and another section called Out of the Past features classic and hard-to-find films. I asked Will Tizard which movies he is looking forward to see.

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
“I am really enjoying some of the retrospectives and the historical films. There is a great classic Czech film, which most people have probably not seen on the screen for a decade, called Evžen mezi námi, Eugene among us, it is a chance to see young actor Jan Kraus as a gawky teenager, and he was great even then. The Sam Fuller films are also wonderful; he was one of the great American independents, doing all kinds of film noir, and war films and Westerns that were unlike anybody else’s.”

While most of the movies shown at the festival are foreign, it also brings some contemporary Czech films to the audience, for example the Czech-Slovak coproduction Cigán, or Gyspy, which has already made waves ahead of the festival, or Petr Marek’s Nic proti ničemu, or Nothing Against Nothing, a movie exploring the theme of adoption in the grimly authentic Dogma style.

Ondřej Provazník,  photo: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary
Ondřej Provazník, another Czech director, introduced the documentary Ženy SHR, or Coal in the Soul, ahead of a screening that took place here on Sunday. The young Czech film maker has had two of his films, both documentaries which he co-directed with his friend and colleague Martin Dušek, shown at the festival. I asked him if the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival was a good platform for up-and-coming Czech directors.

“Our first film, Poustevna, das ist Paradies! was shown here. Actually, Karlovy Vary was the first film festival that really gave us the chance. After we had a screening here, when our first film was really just a work in progress, we were approached by lots of people who wanted to see our documentaries. And we also got some invitations to other festivals based on that. So I think that it is a really good opportunity for debut filmmakers to start at this festival, for sure.”

'Poustevna,  das ist Paradies!',  photo: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary
And do you think that this festival does enough to promote contemporary Czech film, or do you think that’s something of a shortcoming?

“I think that the festival does quite a lot for Czech movies, and I think that this kind of festival, which is category A, should try to maintain a good level in the films it presents. So I think, it’s quite ok that a lot of Czech movies are not shown here, because lots of Czech movies are simply not good, why show them here.”

Radim Špaček is another Czech director. His film Pouta or Walking Too Fast was screened here at the festival the night before I spoke to him. He told me that he was surprised by how interested viewers were and that the Q&A lasted for a very long time. Here’s what else he had to say about the special atmosphere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Radim Špaček,  photo: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary
“I think the audience here wants to see movies that are not normally in cinemas. That is why they are really special and warm, and they want to talk to you and ask questions, they are very pleasant. You can compare it to other festivals, but this one is special.”

Of course, the bulk of directors visiting come from all over the world, and many of them say that they appreciate the unique charm of this festival, the contrast of the lavish architecture along the colonnade and the functionalist slab of concrete, Hotel Thermal, the center of the festival. It is these differences that make the festival so attractive, says Amir Bar-Lev, whose film Fighter won the Special Jury Prize in Karlovy Vary’s documentary film section in 2000. He says he really enjoys coming back – this time, he is here as the chairman of the documentary jury.

Amir Bar-Lev,  photo: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary
“This festival does a wonderful job of creating a very genuine and meaningful experience for people who come from all walks of life. You know, it’s a world class festival with celebrities and amazing parties and gala presentations, yet it also has a sense of Woodstock. If you come here in the morning, and see all these Czech students who have been sleeping in sleeping bags in the rain, underneath the ramp and things like that. The fact that those two experiences, and so many in between, coexist in one festival is very, very admirable.”

For the 46th time, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival will wrap up on Saturday, when the winners are announced at the closing ceremony and the last party of this year’s festival kicks off. But most visitors are sure to come back next year for yet another ten days jam-packed with movies, celebrities and celebrations.