FESTIVALS: With Lower Wattage and Filmmaker Support, Karlovy Vary Takes a Step Back

by Michael Lee

The most important development at the 1999 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF), which ran last month in the Czech Republic resort town, actually happened last year, when Chemapol, the chemical goods titan, celebrated its 50th anniversary by going bankrupt. Sponsorship of the KVIFF was one of the company's foremost guilt-allaying activities, and its rather sudden inability to pay its creditors left the festival with a gaping debt of more than half a million dollars.

This year, Trangas picked up Chemapol's "public" utility sponsorship slot, but the lingering debt casts a long shadow. After several years of steady growth, the 34th KVIFF is the first step backwards: fewer films, no separate documentary section, about 100 fewer international press visitors, and a whole lot less glitz. "I guess you could call it a step back," said Mark Grein, head of TV production at Saatchi and Saatchi's Prague office. "But for me, and most of my friends and colleagues, it seems like a positive development. It lets it be more of a people's festival."

Prague-based American film journalist Keith Jones, who has attended the KVIFF four times before, disagrees. "It's more than ever a sponsor's festival. The parties were held totally to appease the sponsors, so they were badly planned, didn't have themes or really any connection to the films. And there were less tickets to the movies available, because they were reserved for the sponsors in blocks."

Not so long ago, the Festival was in a similar crisis. Founded just after World War II, KVIFF alternated years with Moscow as the center of Iron Curtain film glory. But in the early 90's, having lost its identity, raison d'