By Indiewire | Indiewire July 24, 2001 at 2:00AM
FESTIVALS: 36th Karlovy Vary Finds Its Niche
by Jeffrey Brown
(indieWIRE/ 07.24.01) -- This year's Karlovy Vary International Film Festival went off with ease -- a fitting description for the lazy Bohemian spa town where Goethe, Beethoven and Catherine the Great, among other distinguished guests, once sought refuge in the mineral baths.
After having spent the better part of the last decade searching for an identity to match its commitment to Central and Eastern European film and its desire to join the leagues of the larger western events, festival organizers have finally found a comfortable niche. They have waved the white flag on being a business-driven festival and stopped pumping its "A" festival rating at every turn -- arriving this year, its 36th, more poised and aware of its strengths and weaknesses than ever before.
"Compared to Berlin or Cannes, we really don't have the business they have. The festival is more of a cultural confrontation," said Jiri Bartoska, Festival President. He wrapped up the festival by noting the calmness with which the festival passed: no big health scares (Gregory Peck was hospitalized during the festival a couple of years ago) or major programming glitches (the entire ticketing system crashed mid-festival that same year).
A relaxed Stefan Uhrik, head of the Festival's perennially popular Forum of Independents section, seconded Bartoska's comparison to other festivals: "My festival slogan is always, 'Cannes is over; now let's have some fun.'"
He was not the only one living by such a slogan. The fun, toned-down approach appeals largely to students who, like last year, comprised about half of this year's almost 10,000 accredited visitors, up about 1,000 from last year. Not even downpours could dampen their spirits as many slept outside in tents or under staircases before lining up in the morning for tickets. This perseverance for screenings prompted Variety editor Steven Gaydos, in town to present the magazine's Critics Choice section of films, to praise these filmgoers as "the best audiences of any festival in the world."
Once a student at Prague's FAMU film school, Emir Kusturica, a local favorite, introduced his "Super 8 Stories" to a packed house. Yet only a handful of his audience scored the festival's hottest ticket: a late night gig with his No Smoking Orchestra. "This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," the Bosnian director called out, the usual introduction for the band's concerts, before providing the most rollicking, high-energy evening of the festival.
At a mobbed press conference earlier in the day, Kusturica expressed a secret admiration for those amateur artists unconcerned with becoming professional or famous, inspired by a true love of their art. His words gained added significance upon witnessing his guitar work later that night. Outside the Kusturica band fun, there was little out-of-the-ordinary nightlife to mention at this year's fest.
Despite Karlovy Vary's audience-friendly focus and shrewd eschewing of anything resembling a film market, Hollywood at the same time is dumping large sums, about $200 million reportedly last year, into co-productions in Prague alone, making it second only to London for Hollywood productions in Europe. This development in Prague and elsewhere in the region over the last decade was the focus of one of the few industry-related panel discussions, "Central Europe Production: Keeping the Boom from Going Bust," which brought together producers and film professionals with experience in the region.
"There are predominantly two reasons to come to Central Europe -- the first is price, production costs are too expensive in LA, and the second is location, people are burnt out and looking for new places," said Hungarian-American producer Andrew Vajna ("Terminator 3," "Total Recall"). His latest co-production, "American Rhapsody," directed by fellow Hungarian-American Eva Gardos, was shot in the States and Hungary and opened this year's festival, setting the tone for the discussion.
The panel reached a consensus that government support was needed in order for foreign interest to continue in the region, where labor costs are about 40% lower than in the West. "Real co-production in Central and Eastern Europe is going to come with those countries who provide subsidies and tax incentives to local industries," said producer Peter Hoffman, citing examples of successful government programs in Canada, England and Australia. Hoffman stressed that such support would ensure high quality facilities and crews capable of working with A-list foreign directors