Film Scouts Diaries

2007 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Diary #1

by Henri Béhar

"Ambiance," did you say ?

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, June 30 - An intriguing thing happened this year at the 42nd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, which took place from June 29 to July 8 in the Czech health resort formerly known as Karlsbad, a two hours' drive from Prague. As evinced by previous coverage, part of the charm of this Festival resided in its audience. Yes, you had a mile-long roster of actors, directors, journalists from all over the world, and notables, local, regional and national. The president of the Czech Republic always made it a point to attend -- it was Vaclav Havel then, it is Vaclav Klaus now.

But more importantly, beside those usual suspects, you had a slew of backpackers that came from all over the country. Their sleeping bags tightly rolled and tied to their haversacks, their jeans fashionably torn, unshaved, their hair a mess, they were all over the place, ready to overdose on films from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m.. They gathered near the theatre entrances, ready to fill whatever seats remained empty. They slept just about everywhere – on the main plaza, behind the bushes surrounding the swimming pool of the Thermal Hotel, while the police deliberately looked the other way. Come 7 a.m., however, the backpackers always cleaned up after themselves and kept the place tidy. The atmosphere was eminently festive, you had the feeling this Festival was their Woodstock.

Over the years, the atmosphere slightly changed as the Festival yielded to what might be called the red carpet syndrome. More glamour, less scruffiness. Karlovy Vary was about to lose its uniqueness and become "a Festival like many others."

The good news is: the backpackers are trickling back -- with a twist. You see, even though they have returned, -- "on vacation", as it were -- the backpackers of yesteryears now have day jobs. They also have babies. So a nursery was set up near the press room on the first-floor lobby of the Thermal. Now while mom is banging on the computer (courtesy of Toshiba), little Jan is banging on toy drums -- or on little Jiri's head. And so, from the festival circuit veterans in their late fifties to the toddlers discovering films in their prams, four generations gleefully mingle on the main plaza, around the cafes, in the theatres and the hallways. And once again, everything is (almost) as it should be.


Now on with the program. Apart from the Official Selections (Fiction and Documentaries, both competition and out-of-competition), the 42nd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival boasted several sections: East of the West (competition and "special events"), Open Eyes, Horizons, Another View, Forum of the Independents, Czech films 2006 2007, and Midnight Screenings (inspired by Toronto's Midnight Madness). To which one must add several retrospectives"-- the Shochiku Nouvelle Vague (Japan in the early sixties, with such luminaries as Nagisa Oshima, Yoshishige Yoshida and Sasahiro Sinoda), The New Hollywood, (late sixties, early seventies, with such films as George Lucas's American Graffiti, Francis Coppola's The Conversation, Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude and Peter Bogdanovich' Last Picture Show) – Special Focuses (new Italian directors), and Tributes: to American director William Wyler (his Bette Davis years), and to Czech animation pioneer Bretislav Pojar.

On the opening night, a bevy of white-bathing-suit clad, blonde bewigged bimbettes shimmied behind a shimmering, stage-wide shower curtain of metallic threads (a Mittle-European approach to Busby Berkeley, no doubt). While the rest of us still scratched their heads, speeches were delivered and the various juries introduced (Variety's chief Peter Bart heads the main jury). Then actress Renée Zellweger bounced on stage, her hair cut short and wearying a pair of jeans and a skimpy sweater -- a refreshing sight among the black-tie crowd. The explanation behind Zellweger's attire: the suitcase containing her haute-couture dress had been "misplaced" at the Prague airport. (Luckily, it arrived a day later, just in time for her to introduce her latest film, Miss Potter)

Apart from presenting that biopic about writer and illustrator Beatrix Potter, Zellweger was in town to give a special Life Achievement Award to filmmaker Bretislav Pojar. Rather sprightly for his age (84), strikingly tall and topped with a shock of white hair, Pojar is a legend in Eastern European animation. A teacher for nearly 20 years at the famous FAMU film school, he holds seminars on animation and film direction, advises students on their screenplays and assesses their designs, films and dissertation. A major influence, apparently, on entire generations of animators and directors. Bretislav Pojar was one of Jiri Trnka's original animators, a virtuoso, early on, in his approach to the animation of puppets. As she introduced him, Zellweger barely looked at her notes, and one had the feeling she had actually taken the time to watch some of Pojar's films and truly knew whereof she spoke. If that is the case, more power to you, girl !

But more about the festivities (and the films) tomorrow.

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