The Czech Republic’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival has a reputation as a meeting place where industry professionals can discuss deals away from the pressure of the major markets.

With 19 world premieres, closed industry screenings and producers pitching works in progress, there are opportunities for sales agents and distributors to pick up titles that slipped under the radar at Cannes and Berlin.

Tine Klint, head of business and development at TrustNordisk, will be in town to promote Antichrist and new competition title Applause, and meet with ‘everyone from the business’, she says. “The good thing about Karlovy Vary is that you can see everyone and there’s still time to see films.”

The pace is relaxed, but business is often done. At last year’s festival, TrustNordisk sold the Crystal Globe-winner Terribly Happy to the Czech Republic (CinemArt) and Poland (Syrena Films). The film grossed $2.3m worldwide by year’s end. An English-language remake was first mooted at last year’s event and director Henrik Ruben Genz is now preparing the co-production between Denmark’s Fine & Mellow and the Czech Republic’s Stillking Films.

An audience road-test

Local Czech distributors use Karlovy Vary to gauge audience reaction to arthouse titles and buy accordingly. “The audiences are very big and interested in more than just the blockbuster productions. It’s a good word-of-mouth starting point,” says Ivo Andrle, head of acquisitions for Czech arthouse distributor Aerofilms, which picked up Taxidermia in 2006 and Lucky Miles in 2007 at the festival.

Karlovy Vary has always been a meeting place for the Eastern European industry. Until the collapse of communism, it and Moscow were the only category A festivals in the Eastern Bloc. A market was organised in 1997, but did not attract much interest. The festival created a film-industry office in 2002 to help professionals to network and to organise the East of the West Works in Progress panel, where sales agents, festival programmers and others catch a glimpse of upcoming films from Eastern Europe.


Burgeoning attendance

Festival attendance has grown considerably over the past 10 years, averaging just over 10,000 accreditations. Last year, the festival sold 143,781 tickets - the most in its history - and increased the cash award for the Grand Prix Crystal Globe for best feature film from $20,000 to $30,000.

The festival is popular with young Czech audiences from Prague and throughout the Czech Republic, who are eager to see films that have screened at Cannes, Sundance and other major festivals, and which otherwise would not be distributed to Czech theatres. Extensive coverage in the press - 623 international journalists attended last year - assures a high degree of awareness, even among those who stay home.

Shana Feste’s Sundance favourite, The Greatest, is opening the festival and Richard Curtis’ The Boat That Rocked is the closing night gala. Claudie Ossard heads the jury, which also includes film-makers Rodrigo Pla, actress Maria Bonnevie and US film critic Kenneth Turan.

World and international premieres comprise the main competition. All corners of the globe are typically represented, with regulars including Kim Ki-duk, Ferzan Ozpetek, Alexei Uchitel and Fridrik Thor Fridriksson. The festival has helped nurture the careers of Timur Bekmambetov, Kornel Mundruczo and Petr Zelenka, among others.

Klint says a competition slot at Karlovy Vary is of great importance. “Competition and awards are a stamp of quality. Considering the number of films on the market today, competition and awards help the individual person to select what films to see before all the others.”

“The good thing about Karlovy Vary is that you can see everyone and there’s still time to see films.”

Tine Klint, TrustNordisk

“The competition selection at Karlovy Vary offers films of talented young film-makers whose artistic potential others have not yet discovered,” says Ivana Kosulicova, the head of acquisitions at local distributor CinemArt, who bought Terribly Happy last year and The Art Of Negative Thinking the year before. “Ten years ago, we bought the films of Lars von Trier, Pedro Almodovar and Emir Kusturica for Czech distribution. Today, the films of these well-known directors go for high prices to wealthy distributors.”

Michael Werner, sales manager of NonStop Sales, recalls being at Karlovy Vary in 2003 with Morten Tyldum’s film Buddy in competition. “It was given the audience award, which is the best to get, especially at a young-audience festival like Karlovy Vary.”

A nod to the Eastern Bloc

The East of the West selection is the premiere competition for films from the former Eastern Bloc. As such, the selection has tracked the rise of the so-called Romanian new wave and post-Soviet Russian and Balkan film. Last year’s East of the West winner was the Cannes favourite Tulpan by Sergei Dvortsevoy.

Last year’s audience award went to Nikita Mikhalkov’s 12, which premiered the previous year at Venice.