KV Film Festival: Lukewarm Springs

Karl’s bad film festival

The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival July 4-12 in Karlovy Vary The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is the most famous film festival in the country and, in case you couldn’t make it to the major fests in Cannes, Berlin or Venice, you’ll find surprisingly solid stuff here. What you won’t find much of are the hyped-up new films you’ve been waiting to see for months, nor the glamour or hipness the festival pretends to offer.

Still, the IFF is a huge event in the Czech Republic for all cinemagoers and local show-business people. The long morning lines at the box offices indicate that IFF is the only opportunity for Czechs to get a heads-up on recent world cinema. All the other local film festivals fall apart when compared to IFF’s wide choice of hits, major art productions and movies from unknown territories. Domestically, IFF is a top event with nearly manic media coverage. Internationally, however, it is not.

The problem is that no major or long-awaited films are screened in the Karlovy Vary competition. A look at this year’s roster reveals a single biggie: The Coast Guard by the renowned Kim Ki-Duk. His last flick was a disappointment in Berlin two years back, which might be why the producers have chosen a smaller, yet still A-grade fest for it. The Czechs will raise the stakes with Hřebejk’s domestic blockbuster “Pupendo,” his best attempt to date, but given last year’s awarding of the Grand Prix to Zelenka’s Year of the Devil, it’s highly unlikely the jury will select a Czech film two years in a row. There is a new flick by Alain Corneau, Fear And Trembling, and a new Dogma 95 film by Natasha Arthy, Old, New, Borrowed and Blue. The rest of the competition collection is a showcase of uninteresting middle-brow mediocrity.

So how does the Czech Republic’s festival rate on the European film festival map? Well, if you want to see the hottest openings, you gotta head for Cannes, Berlin or Venice (in that order); if you want to see the most promising debuts, buy a ticket to Rotterdam; and if you missed all those, the healing springs of Karlovy Vary are just a few kilometers away.
Any festival is about the mix of atmosphere, hipness and sometimes even the films themselves. In terms of hipness, a festival must offer shocking, brand new or at least major productions. There’s nothing shocking at this year’s IFF, and there never really has been. There are plenty of international films on offer, but these are rather small productions.

There are certainly big films on this year’s palette. But aren’t they a bit old? Shouldn’t they already be in theatrical release nation-wide? Well they’re not, not yet at least, so festival-goers will undoubtedly flock to the films being screened in the “Horizons” section. These are basically first class pictures from the latest Cannes, Berlin and Venice festivals: “Blind Shaft,” “I’m Not Scared,” “With or Without Me,” “Adaptation,” “The Hours,” “Madame Brouette,” and the Bear-winning “In This World.” From the Cannes competition, look for Lars von Trier’s great “Dogville,” Ozon’s pop “Swimming Pool” and the Palme-winning “Elephant” from American director Gus Van Sant. In addition, this year’s Sundance winner “American Splendor” can be seen at Karlovy Vary. But if you skip all of these, whatever you do, don’t miss Ivan Sen’s “Beneath Clouds,” a beautiful Aussie indie that featured in last year’s Berlin competition. For oldies fans, this year’s retrospectives offer a mix of domestic (Menzel) and Berlin-Cannes regurgitations (once again) on an Ozu-Fellini route.

All these are pretty big names, indeed. But is the Czech scene so small that the festival has to supply a role of art-houses here? Is the top Czech film festival merely a place to see the stuff you missed everywhere else?

To me, the reality of the annual festival sharply contrasts with its presentation. Just look at their official site (www.iffkv.cz). It’s all stars, sparkles, glitter, money. But a dramatic absence of international stars, with the exception of Woody Harrelson (who comes for the free dope), and jurors indicates otherwise. Knowing that, the festival could focus more on the Czech or Central European scene. It could be a huge open gate for Czech films. The young crowd could be fed with cutting-edge digital films. But it is not. There is no film-market at Karlovy Vary and therefore no reason for international CEOs, buyers, sellers, distributors and stars to fly over. It’s just another of the many fests you’ll want to visit once before moving on.

Šimon Šafránek is an editor of dokina.cz.

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