“It’s about a very strong relationship with the filmmaker”: Programme chief Och on selecting films for Karlovy Vary

Jiří Schmitzer in 'Old-Timers', photo: Czech Television

The 12 films contending for the Best Film Crystal Globe at the 54th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival have just been announced. They include works by hot young directors, as well as faces familiar to regular attendees at the Czech Republic’s biggest cinema event. However, when the festival takes place from the end of June there will be no Czech films in the main competition, which is something I discussed with KVIFF’s artistic director, Karel Och.

Artistic director Karel Och introducing the programme of the 54th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival,  photo: Ian Willoughby
It means a lot to Czech films to get into the competition at Karlovy Vary. Is it a difficult decision for you not to include any?

“It’s a terrible decision. It’s a terrifying decision. It’s a decision that we discuss, with my colleagues, long hours before we take such a decision.

“But our taste, and the way that we see films and what we want to do with the films that we present in world premieres, in terms of their promotion to the entire world, is firm and it cannot change only because we’re in the Czech Republic.

“So unfortunately this year there is no Czech director in the competition.

“But there is a Czech trace, a Slovak-Czech co-production, the new film by Marko Škop, Let There Be Light. So there is something from the Czech Republic.”

But I presume there will be some notable Czech films outside the main competition?

“There are – there’s a whole variety of Czech production presented as premieres in the Out of Competition part of the main section.

“One of them is a new film by the renowned documentary couple Martin Dušek and Ondřej Provázník, called Old-Timers.

“It has a topic which we expect will raise big discussions and initiate some big conversations, maybe even controversy, because it talks about two aging ex-political prisoners who towards the end of their lives have only one goal.

Jiří Schmitzer in 'Old-Timers',  photo: Czech Television
“They want to find and kill the state prosecutor who condemned to prison and death them and a lot of their colleagues during the Communist times.

“So it’s a very political topic with amazing Czech actors Jiří Schmitzer and Ladislav Mrkvička.”

There are of course 12 films in the main competition. Are there any that you are particularly pleased to have secured?

“We love first-time filmmakers, because we are the first festival that they ever visit in their lives. And then we can come back to these extraordinary moments, such as in the case of Joachim Trier, who started his career in Karlovy Vary with his Reprise.

“But at the same time we couldn’t be happier about securing a new film by a filmmaker who is already renowned, because it helps promote the festival.

“And from that point of view I’m really happy that we succeeded in securing a new German film by Jan-Ole Gerster, who is one of the most talented films of his generation and whose Oh Boy was discovered by Karlovy Vary and went on to receive the European Film Academy prize for Best Debut in 2012.

“His new film Lara is an interesting comeback, not only for Jan-Ole Gerster, but also for main actress, who plays Lara, Corinna Harfouch.

“She’s a very legendary German actress who actually won an award for Best Actress in Karlovy Vary in 1988.”

A number of the filmmakers that are coming have been before at Vary. What does it mean to the festival to have these returnees?

'Lara',  photo: Beta Cinema
“It’s a very pleasing element of our job, because for us to select a film is not only about a job, about ticking a box, about presenting a film in the hall – it’s about a very strong relationship with the filmmaker.

“That sometimes even continues even to friendship, which is the case of Jan-Ole, who I mentioned.

“And of course if the friendship is based on a shared passion for cinema, which is an engine of our lives, then it’s even better and it’s probably the most exciting element of our job.”