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Karlovy Vary Film Festival in action

In the business world a well known adage informs us, that "When it comes to the success (or failure) of a business enterprise, the three most important things are: Location, Location, and Location!" It being one of the hard facts of life that large-scale film festivals are large scale business enterprises as well, the Karlovy Vary film festival -- which has been hard put at times to survive from one year to the next -- is fortunate enough to be graced with one of the most beautiful and user-friendly locations in all of Europe nestled in a fairykland valley of natural hot springs in the cool mountains west of Prague.

The festival opens this year on June 3O, advanced nearly a week from the usual kick-off date of July 4th, and continues until July 7th. The mid-summer slot in a small mountain paradise is ideal for those seeking refuge from the steaming cities of the plain, but tends to be a bit disappointing in terms of celluloid product in view for those who are here for the films, not the fun in the sun and the socializing. The main problem with the competition programming here in the valley of Baroque escapism is, paradoxically, that Karlovy is rated as an ’A’ festival. This means that all films selected for competition must not have been shown at other festivals. Cannes and Berlin gobble up many of the prestige films in the first part of the year, and most of the others are held back for Venice, San Sebastian and Locarno, which are regarded as more promising outlets for big budget and big star films.

Consequently, in spite of spotters who are sent out to prowl other festivals for potential material, Karlovy usually ends up with the dregs of the year, or films pulled in from the margins of major industries in hopes of coming up with some sleepers or unusual revelations. The result is that the competition line-up at Karlovy tends to look like a race of dark-horses ridden by unknown names, unless one is particularly up on cinematic goings on in Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union, the Baltic littoral, the lower Balkans, and the fringes of scattered other film industries. This does not mean that there are no films worth seeing -- some surprises always pop up -- but it does mean that one has more time to devote to the social scene, the cocktail receptions in the middle of the day, and the general summer resort atmosphere -- without feeling that one is missing too much in the way of films.

The competition line-up this year composed of fifteen films, all to be screened as evening galas in the vast Thermal Hotel Main Hall, features the following list of directors and countries: ”Beauty in Trouble”, Jan Hrebejk, Czech/”Destiny”,Miguel Pereira, Argentina/”Frozen City”, Aku Lohimies, Finland/”Goodbye Life”,Ensieh Shah-Hosseini,Iran/”Christmas Tree Up-side Down”, Vassil Zhivkov, Bulgaria/”Love Talk”, Lee Yoon-ki, Korea/”Mezcal”, Ignacio Ortiz, Mexico/”Mouth to Mouth”, Björn Runge, Sweden/”My Quick Way Out”, Miguel Albaladejo, Spain/”Reprise”, Joachim Trier, Norway/”several People, Little Time”, Andrzej Baranski, Poland/”This Girl is Mine”, Virginie Wagon, France/”Transit”, Alexander Rogozhkin, Russia/”Winter Journey”, Hans Steinbichler, Germany/”Sherrybaby”, Laurie Collyer, USA.

This is clearly not an inventory of titles and directors to induce salivation on the part of thirsting film buffs, however, to put it bluntly, it’s not the lure of the programming, (which tends to be quite second-rate compared to other large festivals), nor is it the expectation of seeing top cinema celebrities, as few top drawer directors and/or actors are dying to have their films screened here. The lure of Karlovy Vary, which brings a dedicated set of Karlovian regulars -- journalists, film fest organizers, local celebrities, and just plain hangers-on -- back to the Valley of Steaming Smelly Mineral Waters every summer, is the lure of the location itself. Unlike Humphrey Bogart, who was "misinformed about the waters" in Casablanca, it's no misinformation to say that Karlovy Vary not only has guaranteed health-giving mineral waters, but is also one of the most attractive mountain spa resorts in central Europe, and that a week spent here in the summer, whether you're a working journalist covering the festival, or just a party animal and bikini ogler at the big outdoor swimming pool -- is a vacation week very well spent.

All this being said, there are a number of interesting side-bars to back up the pallid competition offerings. The good news is that there will be a John Huston retro, and Andy Garcia (my favourite actor in big budget 'B' movies) will be a special guest of the fest, and will be honoured with the traditional crystal chandelier which is dispensed to winners to remind them that crystal ware is one of the main cottage industries here. Huston's son, Danny, himself a struggling B-list actor, will be on hand to present some of his famous father's classics. (Whassa-matter -- Karlovy isn't good enough for big sister Angelica?) In an effort to boost the image (glitz by association) Karlovy is also offering a selection of fifteen films Canni-balized from Cannes this year -- unfortunately, like the competition slate, composed entirely of unknowns and also-rans. Another desperation sidebar is a selection of unknown films from the Sundance film festival as a nod to Robert Redford, who did grace this mountain hideaway with his aging presence last year. Another big name, less long in the tooth, which Karlovy managed to snare in 2OO5 was Sharon Stone, but she just posed for a couple of pictures then took off like a shot -- not even bothering to linger long enough to give a press conference. Well -- at least she was here! Karlovy has come a long way since the hey-days when the likes of Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren poured on the glamour -- mostly downhill since then, at least in terms of big name visitors at the top of their careers. However, even if this festival no longer has the pull it once used to have (as the showcase of the Communist Bloc) it still has those three undeniable main things -- location, location, and Location.

Alex, June 29, 2OO6

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