Film Scouts Diaries

1998 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Day 1 - July 3

by Henri Béhar

Day 1 - Friday, July 3, 1998

The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is one of the most exquisite affairs on the Festival circuit. The place, first, is a dream. A health spa for emperors and kings, the former Carlsbad has retained most of its Austro-Hungarian Empire architecture. Castles and manors dot the hills, and the river-front houses are magnificent. Just squint and you'll see yourself running up the hills as if you were Romy Schneider or Karl-Heinz Böhm in "The young days of Sissi, Future Empress". Okay, so Johan Strauss has been replaced by a band playing "When The Saints Go Marching In" on the main plaza, but a mere twirl of the imagination will fix that.

"Festival land" goes from the Grand Hotel Pup, an elaborate gâteau, to the, ahem, "modern" Hotel Thermal where the Festival is headquartered. Luxury shops line the river, most of them displaying crystal-wares. Few Festival-goers ever venture into the real town where regular folks live, work, and go to the grocery stores.

There is none of the tension that pervades Cannes, Berlin or Venice. The managerial skills may vary from one department to the other but the organizers turn into pretzels to accommodate their guests; "There is no problem", seems to be their motto, "only solution."

In "normal" times, the median age in Carlsbad - the health spa part of it - must be around 70. During the Festival, it goes down to 25, for the Festival is a major cultural magnet not only for the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but for several Central European countries. Born in Moravia (which was flooded last year), Jiri Kolar studies in Prague. Having discovered the Festival last year by chance, this year he broke his piggy bank and came with a bunch of friends. They camp out on the hills ; when it rains, they pile up in a cheap hotel room or they simply decide to not sleep at all and crash the parties. Yet at eight a.m., with many like him, they line up to get the sacro-saint tickets to the screenings. Jiri's goal for today: get a ticket to the gala screening of Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" which, on these shores, has become "Jackie Brownovà"...

For years, the Karlovy Vary Festival had focused on Central and Eastern European cinema. After the fall of the Communist regime, it expanded its programming, giving it an international basis - becoming, in its own way, a petite Cannes, with tributes to be paid to Michael Douglas, who, apart from being the star of "Wall Street", "The China Syndrome", "Basic Instinct" and "Fatal Attraction", initiated (and co-produced) the project that was to become Milos Forman's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" as well as to Saul Zaentz whose first foray into independent production was precisely "Cuckoo's Nest", soon to be followed by such high profile films as Philip Kaufman's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (based on a novel by Czech writer Milan Kundera), Forman's "Amadeus" and Anthony Minghella's "The English Patient" among other things).

The American cinema is of course present en masse, what with "Jackie Brown", Tom Di Cillo's "The Real Blonde", Michael DiJiacomo's "Animals", which stars Tim Roth (who is on his way), Mickey Rooney, John Turturro and Lothaire Bluteau, and the Festival closer, Joel and Ethan Coen's "Big Lebowski" (also with Turturro).

After testing the waters the last two years, the Karlovy Vary International Festival, for its 33rd edition, has added a full-fledged film market. At the 1996 "Location Expo" and at the 1997 "Film Bazaar", what was essentially sold was the Czech Republic as a potential location ; this year's goal is to stimulate business across the region, to spur the co-production of future films and sell for international distribution the films already made. Call it the "Kolya" effect, if you will.

A sign, perhaps, that this Festival has become quite a force: Trade-publication Variety is sponsoring a "Critics' Choice" series, a to-be-yearly sidebar that casts the spotlight on such films as Christopher Cherot's "Hav Plenty", Darren Aronofsky's "Pi" and Bruno Dumont's "The Life of Jesus".

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