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Karel Och • Artistic director, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

“I firmly believe in the original raison d’être of festivals”

by 

- We caught up with Karlovy Vary’s Karel Och to discuss his career so far and his involvement in 28 Times Cinema at Venice

Karel Och  • Artistic director, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
(© KVIFF)

From his main position as artistic director of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, which he has occupied since 2010, to his involvement in the selection committee of the LUX Prize and the many responsibilities of his other professional activities, Karel Och has developed a pan-European perspective on our film industry. With the Giornate degli Autori at Venice, he has been immersed for the last three years in the 28 Times Cinema initiative as a mentor for a unique jury composed of one youngster from each country of the EU. Just a few weeks before the event, Cineuropa (also a partner of #28TC) met up with Och to collect his thoughts on the experience and the current status of the festival landscape. 

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Cineuropa: What was your first film-festival experience?
Karel Och:
 I did not really attend film festivals until I started to work for Karlovy Vary. However, I owe a great deal to the programmers of Prague's cinématheque (the cinema of the National Film Archive), where I spent a lot of time. In 2001, I attended the IDFA, already as a member of the Karlovy Vary IFF selection committee. I vividly remember the sensation of solitude, as back then, I did not know anyone from the film industry. At the same time, that allowed me to focus entirely on films and connect more strongly with documentaries.

In 2017, you were part of the Un Certain Regard jury at Cannes. What did you learn from that experience?
It was a unique privilege in many senses, especially because I got to know the festival from the inside a little better. I was excited to follow the festival on a daily basis from that new perspective, and I am impressed by the admirable dedication exhibited by every single member of the Cannes staff.

What do you hope to bring to the 28 Times Cinema initiative, and what is the jury, composed of European youngsters, bringing you in return?
Together with the jury chair, we try to show the jury members a number of new ways of thinking about films. We highlight certain aspects of moviemaking from perspectives they might not be aware of. We proceed in a sensitive way, without influencing their opinion. I love listening to their arguing and their conversations, which I find refreshing. They bring a raw energy to the table, without even a hint of diplomacy or any kind of hidden agenda.

Do you think that such an initiative, lying at the heart of the Venice Film Festival, can help shape a new wave of enthusiastic movie professionals?
It’s not just a hunch; it’s a fact. After only three years of personal involvement, I often meet some of the youngsters who now work in the industry, be it as an assistant in a sales company, on the organisational team of a festival or as an aspiring journalist. Every time, we still have conversations about films that are as exciting as the ones we had during the Giornate degli Autori at Venice. Their passion is clear to see.

As an artistic director in Europe, what would be the key skills and affinities to master?
An unrelenting passion for cinema, and respect for the work of the colleagues in your team – but also for other festivals. Communication is also key. 

Which one of those affinities do you share with the programming team of the Giornate degli Autori?
All of them, which is why it’s such a privilege to be part of that team. We share a special connection.

From your position as a professional viewer, do you still consider yourself part of the “audience” of a film?
In every viewing situation, I always consider myself part of the audience of a film. The professional aspect of my job offers an exciting possibility to share my audience experience with the visitors to our festival, or with anyone else who is interested in a recommendation. 

We have thousands of festivals in Europe, and every single one stresses its importance. However, this system of promoting talents has to come into line with industry plans and global strategies. What are your thoughts on this pressing trend?
I firmly believe in the original raison d’être of festivals – ie, to promote filmmakers who are aiming to discover new, original ways of telling stories. Protecting the auteurs, helping them during their (often) first steps through the jungle of the film industry and facilitating their contact with the audience are some of the key reasons why our job is still just as relevant today as it was before. If we succeed in following in this direction, no matter what the global strategies and industry plans throw up, there will always be a future for film festivals.

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