43rd Karlovy Vary Film Festival

Russia, July 4 - July 14 2008

The jury

Peter Keough (US), Harri Römpötti (Finland), Antonia Kovacheva (Bulgaria), Swapan Ghosh (India), Jan Foll (Czech Republic)

Awarded films

Like the centuries old spa city where it takes place, the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic has had its ups and downs over the years. Founded in 1946, it started out with a post-war enthusiasm that lasted only two years; in 1948 the Soviet Union took over and the festival served largely as a propaganda tool, featuring films parroting the reigning ideology. Starting in the mid 50s, however, Karlovy Vary reflected the overall thawing of the country’s repressive regime and offered some of the world’s greatest films along with its concessions to the party line; guests ranged from Luis Bunuel to Yuri Gagarin.

More importantly, it celebrated the burgeoning Czech New Wave with films by directors such as Milos Forman and Ivan Passer. Everything seemed possible in the spring of 1968, and then the tanks rolled in. Two decades of drabness followed, until the Velvet Revolution of 1989, which ushered in a new renaissance. Since then Karlovy Vary has steadily developed into one of the world’s foremost film events.

Now, on the 40th anniversary of the terrible events of 1968, the biggest obstacle faced by Karlovy Vary is not government oppression but a spot on the film festival calendar between Cannes and Venice that makes the task of finding outstanding premiere features for the official competition a challenge. But programming director Eva Zaraolová has met the challenge, turning a seeming disadvantage into an asset by finding overlooked gems, many from former Eastern Bloc countries. Among those in his year’s programs are Russian director Alexei Uchitel’s The Captive(Plennyj), Hungarian director Attila Gigor’s (aka Galambos) The Investigator (A nyomozó) and The Karamazov Brothers (Karamazovi) from Czech filmmaker Petr Zelenka.

In addition the festival excels in its sidebars, which this year include retrospectives of the work of Nicolas Roeg and Arturo Ripstein, a focus on the Netherlands and “New Hollywood II”, a second edition of classic auteurist films from Hollywood in the 60s and 70s. More significantly it offers tributes to three Czechoslovakian filmmakers whose careers were disrupted by the Soviet invasion 40 years ago: Dušan Hanák, Juraj Jakubisko and Ivan Passer. Passer, fittingly, serves as the president of this year’s Grand Jury. (Peter Keough)