‘It’s a Strange Beast of a Festival’: Karlovy Vary’s Karel Och Talks Quotas, Criticism and the Necessity for Dialogue

·4-min read

Returning after not one but two cancellations caused by the pandemic, Karlovy Vary Film Festival moves into its final days, with artistic director Karel Och already looking back on the 55th edition, pushed back to Aug. 20-28.

“It was a good decision to postpone,” he tells Variety, noting that the streamlined program, with 25 fewer titles than usual, helped satisfy the audience’s needs. “I think people appreciated the fact that even if they came just for one day, they could see what they wanted to see.”

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The event has welcomed the likes of Ninja Thyberg, Alice Diop, Berlinale winner Radu Jude, French DJ Laurent Garnier and “Compartment No. 6” director Juho Kuosmanen, who interacted with the viewers during a slew of live Q&As and talks.

“We have this traditional sense of what the cinema experience should be, of bringing over filmmakers and enabling these encounters, but we can’t stop progress,” notes Och, also mentioning the festival’s very own video platform KVIFF.TV.

“The physical and the online world don’t have to exclude each other – they can collaborate. For film professionals it is, and will be for a while, a very strange experience. We got unused to travelling. But the regular audience, I think they will always come back. For them, it’s not just about the films – it’s about seeing people that you only see here, once a year. And if you have kids, you leave them with their grandparents in Prague.”

Och also opened up about the perceived lack of diversity of this year’s honorees, including Czech director Jan Svěrák, given the KVIFF President’s Award, as well as actors Michael Caine – awarded for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema – Ethan Hawke and Johnny Depp. Depp, about to receive the Donostia Award at San Sebastian as well, has become a controversial figure due to his legal woes. While the Spanish festival decided to issue a statement following the announcement, Karlovy Vary opted not to comment.

“When we had two women as guests, Julianne Moore and Patricia Clarkson [feted in 2019], nobody was really writing about how wonderful that was. But we don’t mind,” he says.

“This year, we have three men and we are about to welcome the fourth. Next year, it might be different again. [With Michael Caine] no one suspected, including us, that a star of his caliber would even show up. Despite his health, he was very dedicated and it was a beautiful first weekend, also because of him. We understand the necessity for dialogue and we enjoy introducing our point of view, but we support our guests regardless of quotas,” he adds, mentioning special sections focusing on female filmmakers held during past editions and a long-time collaboration with his predecessor, Eva Zaoralová. Och, with the event since 2001, was appointed artistic director in 2010, while Jiří Bartoška continues his reign as president.

“It’s a strange beast of a festival. You watch a festival trailer with Casey Affleck and the main award, the Crystal Globe, is just being destroyed. That’s our sense of humor,” he says. In the 2018 video, the American actor was shown trying to sell his trophy in a pawn shop. “That being said, we have more female members of the committee than men. Before, it would never cross my mind to mention it, but this is the rhetoric of today,” he adds.

“Sometimes people come to us with ideas, but we will never sign anything without having a conversation first,” says Och, referring to the 50/50 gender balance pledge. “I know many filmmakers who don’t want this kind of support. Certain issues can be ‘held hostage’ by groups that won’t even discuss it with the interested parties and in the age of social media, information travels fast and can be easily misinterpreted. We vouch for what we stand for and we will always explain it to those who want to criticize it,” he says.

“I look around me and I see people excited about movies. I just met the parents of one of my colleagues and they said that none of the films they saw this year were ‘stupid’. Which is, by far, the most beautiful feedback I have received this year.”

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