Young, enthusiastic audiences as well as sales companies and festival programmers on the lookout for great regional product make Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (July 1-9) the place to be in Europe this month.

Taking place every July in the bucolic Czech spa town, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (July 1-9) is a must-attend event for everyone looking to discover Eastern European talent and tap into the region’s growing box office.

“Anyone who is interested in Eastern European cinema is there,” says Berlinale festival delegate Nikolaj Nikitin, a specialist in Eastern European and Central Asian cinema. “It is important for sales agents and festival programmers.”

Joel Chapron, Unifrance’s specialist for Central and Eastern Europe, who has been attending the festival since 1995, says: “To me, it’s the most important [festival] in Eastern Europe.”

Chapron says Karlovy Vary is the best place to build relationships with buyers from Eastern European territories. For a festival without a market, the event attracts a large industry contingent. Regular attendees include sales outfits such as the Coproduction Office, Katapult Films, Fortissimo Films, K5 International and Trust Nordisk.

“Karlovy Vary is a great place to enjoy films which I could not catch in Cannes,” says Jakub Duszynski, head of acquisitions for Polish distributor Gutek Film. Duszynski picked up Jan Hrebejk’s Beauty In Trouble at Karlovy Vary, where it was in competition in 2006. He credits the festival with introducing him to film-maker Tony Gatlif; Gutek Film has gone on to release three of Gatlif’s titles, Vengo, Transylvania and Exiles.

Leading distributors from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and territories further east attend to gauge audience reaction to their films, refresh contacts and discover new titles.

Leading Czech distributor Bontonfilm often screens high-profile titles at the festival, including Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart which opened Karlovy Vary last year, Shana Feste’s 2009 opening film The Greatest and Richard Curtis’ 2009 closing film The Boat That Rocked. A Karlovy Vary premiere can have a significant box-office impact on arthouse films: The Art Of Negative Thinking earned Bard Breien the best director award in 2007 and went on to draw an impressive 30,000 admissions at the Czech box office.

Carl Clifton, K5 International’s partner — sales and marketing, says the company closed deals on Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor’s A Matter Of Size following the 2009 edition where the film won the audience prize. “Karlovy Vary is a great festival to have on the CV of your film,” Clifton says. “It’s very useful in positioning the film and communicating with buyers. In the case of A Matter Of Size [which had its world premiere at Sundance in 2009], we were able to tell buyers it was a film that had the validation of great festivals.”

Spontaneous reaction

Karlovy Vary can serve as a launchpad for careers as well as individual films. “We seek out first-time directors,” says the festival’s artistic director, Karel Och. “Last year we had four or five debut films in the main competition [including Tomas Masin’s Three Seasons In Hell, Dmitri Mamulia’s Another Sky and Pawel Sala’s Mother Teresa Of Cats]. They were all strong films. It’s always interesting to see young film-makers competing with people like Rajko Grlic, from Croatia, who is a Balkan legend.”

The festival has given high-profile starts to several directors, including Joachim Trier, Nikolaj Steen and Martin Pieter Zandvliet, all of who have had feature debuts in the main competition. “Karlovy Vary is a fantastic experience for first-time directors,” says Susan Wendt, head of sales at Trust Nordisk, which handled those directors’ films. “If you’re a first-time director in Cannes or Toronto, you might not get the feeling you are special. But audiences in Karlovy Vary are very into the films. They recognise you and stop you in the street.”

The festival has long been a reliable platform for Trust Nordisk titles. In 2006, Trier was named best director for Reprise, while grand prizes went to Baltasar Kormakur’s Jar City in 2007 and Henrik Ruben Genz’s Terribly Happy in 2008. In 2009, Paprika Steen was named best actress for her role in Zandvliet’s Applause. Nikolaj Steen’s Oldboys won the audience award in 2010.

Wendt says Karlovy Vary offers good press coverage and promotion of a film to other festivals. “A premiere at Karlovy Vary is a good indication of a strong festival career,” she says.

Film-makers and sales agents also like Karlovy Vary’s young audiences, which are renowned for their enthusiasm. “The audiences are very open and not afraid to react,” Wendt says. “In Cannes, at an official screening, you don’t get spontaneous reaction from the audience. But in Karlovy Vary they’re not afraid to ask questions or just shout out.”

Competitive selections

This year’s Official Selection will feature 12 films in contention for the Crystal Globe. They will include world premieres of local director Martin Sulik’s Cigan, US actor Martin Donovan’s directorial debut, Collaborator, and Andrea Molaioli’s story of corporate greed,The Jewel. Karlovy Vary has a second competitive strand, East of the West, which this year will screen 12 new films from Eastern Europe, including Ahmed Imamovic’s Belvedere and Victor Ginzburg’s Russia-US co-production Generation P. A further 12 titles will compete for the Independent Camera award in the Forum of Independents selection. The festival also has a documentary competition.

International guests at this year’s event will include Judi Dench — who will receive the Crystal Globe for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema, and jury president Istvan Szabo.

The biggest attraction for the industry is the East of the West Works in Progress panel, where film-makers from the region present projects near to completion in search of sales and festival spots. The panel takes place on July 4

“The panel is important,” says Premysl Martinek, managing director of Czech arthouse distributor Artcam. “It’s the best industry tool the festival has.”

The Berlinale’s Nikitin has discovered numerous projects at Works in Progress that have subsequently found a berth at Berlin. Among those discovered last year by Nikitin and his colleague Anna Hoffmann were Czech director Vaclav Kadrnka’s Eighty Letters and Czech Republic-Slovakia co-productions The House from Zuzana Liova and The Matchmaking Mayor from Erika Hnikova. All three went on to screen in the Forum section at this year’s Berlinale.

“The Karlovy Vary panel is one of the most important places for us to work,” Nikitin says. “We can get a look at new projects that will be ready in the next two to three years.”

The 2009 edition of the panel showcased two projects from Poland: Jacek Borcuch’s All That I Love, which went to Sundance in 2010, and Mother Teresa Of Cats, which returned to Karlovy Vary as a competition film in 2010.

This year’s panel will introduce 20 new projects, most of which are looking for final financing. Among the titles are The Gambler, a Hungary-UK co-production from Hungarian director Szabolcs Hajdu, To Kill A Beaver from Polish director Jan Jakub Kolski and Kristina Buozyte’s Aurora/Vanishing Waves, a Lithuania-France co-production.

Additionally, for the third year the industry office is hosting a panel of US professionals who will offer local film-makers tips on how to work with Hollywood. This initiative was inspired by a meeting in 2008 between the film-makers behind Terribly Happy, winner of Karlovy Vary’s Crystal Globe prize, and the Gersh Agency; a deal was struck for an English-language remake of the film. “We want to create the conditions where this sort of meeting can happen more often,” says the festival’s executive director, Krystof Mucha.

Further innovations at this year’s edition include the world premiere of a restored version of Frantisek Vlacil’s 1967 classic Marketa Lazarova, which the festival helped to fund. The festival is also reintroducing open-air screenings. The reconstructed municipal amphitheatre seats 3,000 and will host opening and closing-night screenings.


July 3: Hollywood panel Producer Nick Wechsler, lawyer Karl Austen, Jay Cohen of the Gersh Agency and other US professionals offer tips to European film-makers hoping to work in Hollywood.

July 4: East of the West Works in Progress Producers of 20 projects from Eastern Europe pitch their pre-completion films to international financiers, sales agents and festival representatives.

July 5: DocuTalents from the East Directors and producers of nine creative documentary projects present their films and trailers.