“It’s a tough decision”: 2020 Karlovy Vary film festival cancelled

2019 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, photo: Alexandra Baranova

This year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival will not take place, the organisers have just announced. But while the next edition of the country’s biggest cinema event won’t go ahead until July 2021, some of programme planned for this year should still – on a far smaller scale – reach domestic audiences in the summer. I discussed the decision to cancel with KVIFF’s artistic director, Karel Och.

2019 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival,  photo: Alexandra Baranova

“It’s been rough for several weeks.

“Obviously the main thing that is on our minds has been the safety of everyone, because it’s human lives we are talking about here and a lot of tragedies have happened around the world.

“So even though we adore our jobs, of course the safety and security of our guests and audiences is the main issue that we think of.

“Of course we have been in touch with the authorities and we discussed several scenarios and several options.

“One of them was postponing the festival and having it still within the summer, but maybe four or five weeks later, to see it if made any difference.

“But obviously any kind of gathering above 50 people is something that will loosen at the end of all the changes on the return back to normal, because that’s where the danger lies.

Karel Och,  photo: Vojtěch Havlík / Czech Radio
“So at the end of the day we just got together and thought, We don’t want to harm the reputation of the festival, to spoil the atmosphere as our guests love it, and to have, let’s say, 50 people in the Grand Hall with 1,200 seats and have a lot of unhappy people outside, which we would understand.

“So yes, it’s a tough decision but we thought it was cleaner and in the longer run more respectful towards, let’s say, the DNA of the festival.”

You and your team in the Program Department will have done a lot of work preparing the programme for this year. Can any of that be held over till July next year?

“Yes, some of it can and will be.

“Even FIAPF, the organisation of producers and festivals that sort of overlooks the situation of festivals around the world, has recommended the loosening regulations of each festival, which we would have done anyway.

“Because it’s mainly films and filmmakers that we want to help, because we would not be happening if there were no films and filmmakers.

“So we will obviously consider films from 2020 next year.

“Let’s say films from Berlin – a lot of them had no chance, or close to no chance, to be screened after the premiere. For films from Sundance it’s the same.

“So we’ll have a bigger group to choose from next year.

“But as you said, we have done a lot of work and some of it will be exposed, because we don’t like to lose entirely and we like to explore all the options that would somehow maintain the atmosphere of the festival.

Photo: Ondřej Tomšů,  Radio Prague International
“Considering that cinemas in the Czech Republic will reopen towards the end of May – obviously with each show for 50 people maximum, but still it’s a slow return to normal – we would like to use this to share with our audience across the country part of the programming, part of the films that got us all excited.

“So we’re putting together a selection of 18 films.

“Basically the programme we will offer to Czech cinemas will kind of copy the schedule of the festival, in terms of screening between July 3 and 11 two films per day, let’s say, late afternoon and evening.

“And if all goes well, we hope to screen this selection across the country in maybe 100 cinemas.

“We plan to do a lot of accompanying events with that, Skyping with the filmmakers for Q&A’s and introducing them; the programming team will even travel to the cities.

“So it’s not even 20 films, but it’s a lot of positive emotion.

“And it’s cinemas – it’s not online, it’s a cinema experience. So we care to do this.”

For so many years I guess your year builds up every year to this two-week period at the end of June and the beginning of July. This year that won’t happen. How are you feeling at this moment?

“Oh, it’s hard to describe.

“There is a lot of sadness, a bit of depression – not too much but a bit.

“But it’s teamwork, so we share even the negative emotions with my team, with my colleagues.

“We’ve seen each other a lot during the last few weeks, through Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and we’ve been watching films and discussing them.

“We try to support each other in the bad times especially.

“What can I say? We do this with all our hearts and we all are very sad, but at the same time we’re thinking of the future.

The 55th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival will take place on July 2–10, 2021.

“We’ll have this event in July and then we might do something in the autumn, who knows.

“We’d just like to keep it going and our thoughts are already on 2021.

“So yeah, we will not let the bad news of the day kind of put us in depression.”