Karlovy Vary - from dead grey film festival to one of most lively events in Czech Republic

Eva Zaoralova and Jean-Marc Barr, Photo:CTK

The Karlovy Vary international film festival is in full swing, with every film selling out and all attendance records being broken. Thousands of people are watching films by day and partying by night, in one of the most beautiful spa towns in the Czech Republic. But the festival wasn't always such a lively and popular event. Before becoming artistic director in 1994, Eva Zaoralova attended Karlovy Vary as a film critic for many years; Ian Willoughby asked her just what the festival was like twenty years ago.

Eva Zaoralova and Jean-Marc Barr, Photo:CTK
"Twenty years ago it was very, very...dead. Because I remember the stars were coming. Not the stars from the United States because of the politics, but the stars of France or of Italy were coming. There were so few interesting films that the audience lost the taste to come. In the moments of the competition films the hall of (Hotel) Thermal was completely empty. There were thirty persons, thirty, forty maybe. The competition films were very influenced by ideology and by the politics, so it was not fun for people to come."

So it wasn't like now, with thousands of people here every day.

"No, no, absolutely not. I remember Karlovy Vary was a very, very sad town because it was in the border zone. Of course there was the spa in the past too but the buildings were very grey and not very clean."

Was it hard for you to build up the festival into what it is now?

"Of course it was hard. In 95 and in 96 there was this Prague Film Festival, which tried to cancel Karlovy Vary. In 95 we did not have the 'A' category, nor in 96 but then the FIAF (International Federation of Film Archives) had to recognise that we won, because we were fighting very much to have the people, have the films."

It seems to me one reason why Karlovy Vary is such a successful festival is because it's in a smaller place than Prague?

"Yes, of course, of course. Because the people I meet in Cannes say 'yes, Cannes is marvellous but Karlovy Vary is more symapthetical because we can meet other persons, we know each other' - so it's the atmosphere, the ambience of the festival which plays very much. And the young audience too."

The British actor Stephen Fry is in Karlovy Vary promoting a film called the Discovery of Heaven. He concurs with Eva Zaoralova that the Karlovy Vary film festival is much more intimate and friendly than some of the bigger, better-known festivals in Europe.

"It's not all red carpets and American press and Hollywood Reporter and Variety over-flooding everything with big American films - Venice this has happened to recently. Cannes is a nightmare of just too many people, impossible to have meetings. I mean it's exciting the first time you go. But this (Karlovy Vary) is about audiences, it's much more low-key, and is friendly therefore. In Cannes and Venice if you don't have your accreditation fully visible, people put their hands over your face and push you out of the way. It's not bad if you're an actor and people know who you are, but for your friends, if you bring your partner or your agent or something, they get treated like dirt, and it's very sad."

And it's not like that here in Karlovy Vary?

"Not like that here at all."

And if you want to find out more about Karlovy Vary, you can check out the official website, at www.kviff.com