Karel Och • Artistic director, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
“Establishing contact with viewers does not mean pleasing them at all costs, but rather connecting with their perception”
- The head honcho of the largest Czech film gathering talks about the festival’s evolution, new initiatives, national cinema and welcoming Ukrainian films
As the 56th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (1-9 July) draws ever closer (see the news), we sat down with its artistic director to discuss the upcoming edition. Karel Och talked about the development of the festival, new initiatives and Czech cinema, among other topics.
Cineuropa: Karlovy Vary has undergone several changes over the course of the past few editions. What was the driving force behind them, other than the pandemic?
Karel Och: We had started contemplating several of the structural changes even before the pandemic. One was the removal of the documentary competition, and also, the new face of the former East of the West competition, Proxima, is a significant change that we had been preparing for several years. We consulted on this alteration with directors and producers from the region, since several of the voices calling for this change came from our industry. We understood that our mission of helping filmmakers from the former Eastern Bloc reach the international stage had been accomplished, and now the producers want to compete on a global level.
When introducing the official selection, you noted that it champions “new means of cinematic expression that nonetheless do not stand in opposition to the audience’s receptiveness or inclinations”. Is this the festival’s current programming policy, focusing on new cinema that is audience-friendly?
I believe this is the next chapter in the work of festival programmers who are closely watching current trends and want to offer the audience, us included, films that will provoke them. I usually use the metaphor of a gallery, where you have realistic paintings on display as well as more abstract oeuvres. The paintings entice visitors in for an experience, which may be complicated, but without losing touch with them. And establishing contact with viewers does not mean pleasing them at any cost, but rather connecting with their perception, even if the stimuli are of a radical nature.
Besides sections with films where genre meets arthouse, you also have a dedicated section called Imagina, which hosts experimental and avant-garde offerings.
Previously, we used to screen similar films in different sections. But I believe each programmer wants to have a clearly readable programme structure. Each section had a clear definition of what kind of viewer might be expected – for example, new visitors. Imagina is now well established after existing for several years, and we have three world premieres from important filmmakers that will invite viewers for an alternative screening experience.
Czech cinema is thoroughly represented in the line-up once again. However, some of the new films we might have been expecting to see in the programme did not make the cut.
We have quite a lot of domestic films this year, but many of them did not make it into the final line-up. We had to be more selective. We wanted our line-up of Czech movies to be select and to contain films that we could offer not solely to the Czech viewers, but also to those from Australia or Asia. Not all of the Czech films were internationally understandable. We are very happy with the selection of domestic titles. Most of them have that European arthouse production sensibility, and we are confident that some of them will have a successful international career.
International film festivals are extending their programming scope beyond film production, including episodic storytelling, XR oeuvres and video games. Is this a direction that KVIFF might be pondering?
This is a topic that is being discussed in relation to the new KVIFF Talents initiative. The selection process for KVIFF Talents is currently under way, and I know that video games are also among the submissions. That being said, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival supports these kinds of works at the earliest stages. We will likely have to wait several years until we can discuss programming content of this type within the context of our festival.
Speaking of KVIFF Talents, can you elaborate on the mission of this initiative?
KVIFF Talents stems from our long-term attempt to support domestic production and new talents, to offer alternative ways of financing accompanied by coaching, and to broaden audiovisual production into new contexts. Furthermore, it focuses on learning how to utilise film language on a limited budget. We would like to use this initiative to support young Czech talents so that they can work on more projects that could be cheaper and thus revitalise low-budget filmmaking in the country. And that’s something we are particularly interested in, since such an approach is fast, fresh and responsive to changing trends.
We started talking about how the pandemic influenced the festival, but there is another event that has also had an impact. The KVIFF is exceptionally hosting the Odesa International Film Festival Works in Progress selection because of the war on Ukraine [see the news]. What is your stance on boycotting Russian filmmakers?
Besides the space we have gladly created for the presentation of the works in progress you mentioned, we are offering quite a representative selection of contemporary Ukrainian cinema, which is also getting some well-deserved exposure because of its cinematic qualities. We have four outstanding films from Ukrainian filmmakers in the line-up: Klondike [+see also:
interview: Maryna Er Gorbach
film profile], Butterfly Vision [+see also:
interview: Maksym Nakonechnyi
film profile], Pamfir [+see also:
interview: Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk
film profile] and Reflection [+see also:
interview: Valentyn Vasyanovych
film profile], together with the much-discussed and alarming Mariupolis 2 [+see also:
We are all trying to react to this situation and remain sensitive to the requests of Ukrainian filmmakers, who are our friends and partners. We completely understand the reasons why they called for a blanket boycott. One way to effect the change is for it to come from within Russian society, and this can be strengthened by isolation, and not solely by cutting back on cinema. On the other hand, we have several partners who are Russian filmmakers that are actively standing up to the so-called elites in their country, and they do not want to be lumped in with citizens who support Putin. And we cannot turn a blind eye to them either.
That’s why we are not boycotting Russian films at Karlovy Vary. We do not have any Russian films in the official selection, but it’s not because the festival is boycotting them. In the sidebar line-up, you can find the film Captain Volkonogov Escaped [+see also:
film profile], which we invited last autumn after seeing it at the Venice Film Festival. We did not think there was any reason to cancel the invitation, as the film’s story strongly echoes the current situation and can contribute to an eye-opening discussion.
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