Eva Zaoralová, who helped “resurrect” Karlovy Vary film festival, dies at 89

Eva Zaoralová

Tributes are being paid to Eva Zaoralová, the former longstanding artistic director of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, who has died at the age of 89. Eva Zaoralová and festival president Jiří Bartoška made Karlovy Vary the region’s biggest cinema event after taking the reins in 1994, says film journalist Vojtěch Rynda.

“The festival was in a very bad state. It was actually feared that it was coming to an end.

“There was another festival which was going to start in Prague, called the Golden Golem, and for a year and a half these festivals were basically competing against each other.

“And what Eva Zaoralová with Jiří Bartoška did was they resurrected the Karlovy Vary film festival and built its international prestige and made it one of the most famous festivals in the whole world."

How did they do that?

“The initial thing was that they agreed on the fact that the festival needs to stay in Karlovy Vary.

“Because if it were moved to Prague it would lose part of its appeal, the appeal being that it was a spa city and not in Prague.

“The second thing was that they felt the importance of international guests, of ‘A’ star actors.

Eva Zaoralová,  Jiří Bartoška | Photo: Barbora Němcová,  Radio Prague International

“For example, in 1994 the young Leonardo DiCaprio was there – and others followed.

“And the third, most important, thing was a great selection of films.

“Since Eva Zaoralová had frequently been visiting international festivals since the mid ‘60s, she had great taste for selecting the best films available.”

She had to be an expert in world cinema in her position, but were there particular countries that she had a connection with, with regard to film?

“Given that she studied French and unofficially also Italian and she had been a long-time translator from these two languages, she felt an affiliation to French and Italian cinema, especially their New Waves.

“She personally met, for example, Antonioni and she exchanged letters with Federico Fellini.

“So these two countries were film countries that were closest to her heart, I would say.”

She was artistic director of the festival and Jiří Bartoška, an actor, is president. They seemed like rather different types of people – what was their partnership like?

“The running joke was that it was almost like a marriage, and they themselves laughed about this joke.

“I think that they complemented each other perfectly.

“Bartoška was and still is the, how to put it, facade of the festival.

“He was the one in front of the cameras, he was the one presenting the festival publicly, while Eva Zaoralová did the work behind the scenes: selecting movies, representing Karlovy Vary film festival at other festivals.

“She was running the Program Department, where she raised her successors.

“So I think the collaboration was just about perfect.”

What was she like at the personal level? She had been a journalist – what was she like for journalist for you to deal with?

“She was almost like a mother-like figure, who not only had great taste in film and an immense knowledge of the history of cinema but was also a great journalist who taught many of us younger journalists how to write.

“For example, she was a long-time editor in chief of the Film a doba film magazine, one of the most influential film magazines in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.

“She edited some of my reviews and interviews and her insights were always very helpful.

“Also since she had such great taste and she was able to express her opinions about movies in a very concise, sometimes even acerbic, way, that’s what she basically taught many of us.”