KVIFF starts on high notes

Bond themes helped kick off the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

The 52nd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is underway and the first wave of stars have come through.

Opening night saw Uma Thruman, Casey Affleck and James Newton Howard. The opening ceremony itself made reference to horror films, with actresses in plastic bags and a character brandishing a cleaver. Host Marek Eben tied the scene into current events, saying that real horror occurs, especially as one looks higher in society.

Thurman, in accepting her KVIFF Festival President's Award thanked the audience for making it possible for her to do what she loves doing and being able to have passion in her life. Casey Affleck received the same award, and complimented the city of Karlovy Vary for its beauty. He said that he was used to making “films that probably most people never see,” as he tended to chose arthouse scripts. But he was pleased that people at the festival were seeing many films that were out of the mainstream. He also liked festivals for the opportunity to meet filmgoers.

The opening film was the romantic comedy The Big Sick, which will be on Czech screens later in July.

James Newton Howard received the Golden Globe for contribution to world cinema. After the opening he conducted the first part of an outdoor concert for those who weren't lucky enough to see the opening. He played music from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. That was followed by Carl Davis conducting music from James Bond films, starting with Dr No and hitting several favorites including Live and Let Die, Skyfall and Goldfinger. He said his favorite was “Another Way to Die” from Quantum of Solace, the only duet in the Bond repertoire. He also played “The Look of Love,” which technically is a Bond song as it was in the 1967 comedy version of Casino Royale, starring David Niven and Woody Allen.

James Newton Howard had a public talk, hosted by film critic Leonard Maltin and musician Jan P Muchow. He described some of the process of composing and also played the piano.

Casey Affleck also had a public talk to discuss his new film, A Ghost Story, along with director David Lowery and some of the film's producers. At a press conference ahead of the film, Affleck said he took the role without reading the script, based on his relationship with the director and the chance to again work with actress Rooney Mara, whom he praised for her natural style. Affleck, Mara and Lowery all worked together on Ain't Them Bodies Saints.

Uma Thurman was a bit less accessible to the public. She introduced two films at the summer cinema, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and its sequel. She also appeared at a filming of a talk show, Na plovárně, hosted by Marek Eben. But she didn't do a public talk or press conference.

There was special out of competition screening of Song of Granite, a biopic about Irish singer Joe Heaney. He sang in a distinctive regional style. Director Pat Collins answered questions after the film and said it was hard to find actors who still knew that obscure style. He did not want to mix in other voices as he wanted an authentic look and sound.

Finding locations to match 1930s Ireland was a challenge as well, and he used a small abandoned village on an island. The film was in black and white to capture the feel of classic documentaries, even though it was a dramatic film. Song of Granite made its European premiere at the festival.

The competition for the Golden Globe is also under way, with the French film Corporate, about inhumane company policies, being a strong early contender. The Georgian-German-French co-production Khibula, from director George Ovashvili, also made an impression telling the fate of the first president of Georgia and his followers after a coup. The same director won at Karlovy Vary in 2014.

Some big films also have drawn big crowds. Good Time, starring Robert Pattinson, looked at some small-time criminals whose world spins out of control. One of them has special needs and doesn't seem to fully understand what his cousin in making him do. Pattinson gives a standout performance.

The highly anticipated Sofia Coppola film The Beguiled plays Monday, and was already shown to the press. It is a remake of a 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood. The new version puts emphasis on the repressed feelings of the women at an isolated school when a wounded soldier turns up during the US Civil War.

Baby Driver, a high-speed crime film starring Ansel Elgort and Kevin Spacey, also was pre-screened for the press and starts its festival run Monday. It is reminiscent of 1970s car chase films, but with a lot of originality and character development. The director was Edgar Wright, who made Shaun of the Dead.

For documentaries, so far there has been A Campaign of Their Own, about Bernie Sanders' presidential bid. There was also an odd look at a severely underfunded primate research center in Abkhazia, a country only Russia recognizes. The film has the provocative title Tarzan's Testicles.While the festival officially ends July 8, there will be special screenings of the winners on July 9 at the Hotel Thermal.

For those who can't make it to Karlovy Vary, some of the films will play in Prague at kino Světozor and kino Aero from July 8 to 16.

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