The 42nd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) wrapped up on Saturday night in the Czech Republic and how this festival has remained a virtual secret to the American film community boggles the mind. Here is a major international film festival, complete with world and international premieres that is screaming for acquisition execs, filmmakers and programmers and yet the number of guests from the U.S. numbered under 50, including Czech-based reps of U.S. publications and non-American stringers for American press outlets. Pretty poor, really. Contrary to popular opinion, I am not always hyperbolic and on this one, I maintain that American buyers and sellers who don't attend the KVIFF are basically looney toons. Of the 14 films in competition, 12 had their international premiere in KV with one a world premiere. Of course, premiere status has no bearing on quality, but this festival had several films in competition and non-competition slots that are worthy of distributors attention.
Film I Most Regret Missing: "Jar City" (Mrin) by Balthazar Kormakur
A big fan of Kormakur's work ("101 Reykjavik," "The Sea"), I was very excited to hear that this film would be having its international premiere here. Having broken every box office record in Iceland (the film was seen by 1 in 3 Icelanders) this was a must see and damn it if I didn't miss it. I won't go into why, just accept my humble apologies and be sure I will be begging a copy from the film's sales agent. "Jar City" won the festival's Grand Prix ($20,000) and all who saw it claimed it was a natural for English territory distribution and a strong candidate for (god help me) a remake. Possible future fests are Telluride and Toronto, so look out for it!
Goddamn Funniest Film I've Seen In Ages: "The Art of Negative Thinking" (Kunsten a tenke negativt), written and directed by Bard Breien
You ain't laughed until you've seen a wheelchair-bound stroke patient lurch down the stairs at high speed wearing only his jockey shorts and a woman's wig, only to grab a tequila bottle while whizzing by, collapse on a window sill and slug from the bottle. Only one of the gut-wrenchingly hysterical scenes from this black-as-squid ink comedy which I suspect came a hair's breadth away from picking up the big prize (it won the best director award). I heartily agree with those who wrote of this film having distribution potential in the U.S., especially since the "day and date" formula potentially makes releasing foreign-language product less risky. I mean I ask you, what's funnier than an impotent paraplegic being discovered in the morning by his wife, sitting up in his wheelchair holding a revolver with clothespins on his nipples?
Two Films That Reminded Me That The U.S. Once Made Important Films In Bunches: Terrence Malick's "Badlands" and Monte Hellman's "Two-Lane Blacktop"
One of my favorite things about film festivals is programmers who look to the past as well as the future. This year the KVIFF screened a selection of films from the 1970s entitled "New Hollywood" and in addition to the above-mentioned masterpieces, they showed Steven Speilberg's "The Sugarland Express," Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets," Hal Ashby's "Harold and Maude," "Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show," Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" and George Lucas' "American Graffiti." Mallick's film is arguably the second greatest debut film in history (Rosebud, anyone?) and set the stage for countless "outlaws on the run" films, while introducing two exceptional actors and one superb and very patient director to the world. Hellman's film, a direct response to the hero-worship bestowed on the bikers of "Easy Rider" is pure minimalist genius, reflecting on the dual themes of alienation and freedom. Long-haired California drag racers in the Deep South? "Say, you all wouldn't be... hippies, would you?" Sums it all up, don't it?
The "Wake Up And Smell The Coffee" Award Goes To: "August the First" by Lanre Olabisi
A smart and engaging debut, Olabisi's film is notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it portrays black middle-class Americans in a normal domestic crisis situation sans guns, drugs, dealers or pregnant teens. Considering the American "culture" that gets exported, one has to wonder what the Czech audiences thought of a smart, heart-felt and utterly non-violent film involving African Americans. While I was a little put off by the somewhat abrupt and non-conclusive ending, Olabisi is most definitely a talent to watch and his film shows an adept camera eye and feeling for his subject matter; a definite reach beyond the fest circuit. The cast of Ian Alsup, D. Rubin Green, Joy Merriweather, Kerisse Hutchinson and Sean Phillips are uniformly excellent.
Film I Thought Early On Was The Champ: "Conversation with My Gardener" (Dialogue avec mon jardinier), directed by Jean Becker
A beautiful look at friendship, class, sex, marriage, middle age and a handful of other topics, this film is a refreshing look at French life (mostly) outside of Paris, with the majority of the story taking place in an unnamed rural setting. Said chats are between a landowner (Daniel Auteuil) and his gardener (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) who were grade school classmates from decidedly different economic backgrounds and who quickly grew apart and have not seen each other for many many year. The quick resumption of the friendship and the wholly natural dialogue between the two is what drives the film, with touches of humor and sadness rounding out the picture. In its first screening at KV, the film garnered a lengthy (5+ minutes) standing ovation and it was clear that many of the 1,110+ theatergoers had been crying (and rightly so) just before leaving the film. I know I had been.
Of course there are a few fixes that need to be done at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Many of the screening venues need to be refurbished and the festival's host hotel, the Thermal, is in dire need of a kick in the pants so that it at least pretends to be in the 21st century, rather than the 1970's. That said, all in all, the KVIFF is an exciting and important international film festival. Not on the level of Cannes, Venice or Berlin perhaps, but certainly an event that deserves much more attention from the United States and one at which much business is done and one that serves as an international launching pad for many films.