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Karel Och • Artistic director, Karlovy Vary IFF

"Central and Eastern Europe is being watched closely by professionals from around the world"


- Cineuropa sat down with Karel Och, artistic director of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, to talk about the upcoming edition of the gathering

Karel Och   • Artistic director, Karlovy Vary IFF

Karel Och was appointed as the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival’s (KVIFF’s) artistic director in 2010, after nine years working as a programmer and member of the selection committee at the event. He took over the role from Eva Zaoralová, who boasted a tenure spanning 15 years. He is also a member of the LUX Prize selection panel. Cineuropa met up with Och to discuss the novelties at the 51st edition of the KVIFF (the sixth he is leading as artistic director) as well as domestic production in general. 

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Cineuropa: Is the KVIFF entering its new half-century with a significantly modified concept, policy or programming in comparison to its previous editions? 
Karel Och
: The changes in the programming are not particularly significant; rather, they stem from the evolution of the festival’s tastes and its attempt to offer well-arranged programming with a clear identity for both professionals and the public. This is why we have cancelled the Forum of Independents competition section this year, since films programmed for this section – daring, alternative and even radical movies by young talents – are increasingly present in the main competition. Forum of Independents simply outlived itself, and new visitors did not understand its purpose.

Why did you pick Anthropoid as the opening film?
Anthropoid is a film of the highest standard in terms of European cinema, with strong ties to the Czech Republic – not necessarily just through its topic, but also because the whole film was shot here, it is a Czech co-production, and besides the crew, Czech actors appeared in the film, in several major roles. Since the movie wrapped last summer, we had been hoping that it would be finished in time for the KVIFF, which did happen. Besides, the producers and the director, Sean Ellis, talked about the KVIFF as the ideal venue for the premiere. Mission accomplished! 

Are there any particular motifs in the programme of the upcoming edition?
I believe so, and I am waiting for the viewers to spot them. We do not consider these aspects while preparing the selection; however, we are always happy to see an analysis of our work after the festival. Last year, a juror brought to my attention the unusual number of films about fathers and sons in the main competition. In general, we aim for the viewer’s eye and heart, and we try to hit both organs at once. 

The majority of titles in competition come from Central and Eastern European countries. Do the competition sections of the upcoming edition reflect a certain situation in this region?
It is certainly a part of Europe that is being watched more and more closely by film professionals from other corners of the world, and not necessarily because of the fact that the last two Oscars for Best Foreign-language Film were won by titles from Poland and Hungary. We are building up relations with producers and directors from Central and Eastern Europe on a long-term basis, and our ambition is to continue introducing essential productions from these territories eastward and south-eastward, from the Czech borders to the whole world.

The Czech Republic is represented in every competition section. Is this a coincidence?
I don’t think so. Some filmmakers adapt their schedules to our festival, while we ourselves keep a close eye on others, and we build up relations with them during productions. The KVIFF is the best launch pad for Czech films, and we are trying to maintain this reputation.

What state is domestic production in compared to during the festival’s last edition?
Last year, we screened a lot of debuts from FAMU graduates who are currently working on their next projects. This year’s selection is more diverse and colourful in terms of spanning the generations. I’d say that thanks to the experiences of producers, and with the ever-increasing ambitions of directors, domestic production is much more interesting for foreign countries. This is borne out by the many huge successes of domestic films on the festival circuit from last autumn up until spring this year. 

The phrase “new new wave” is coming up more and more during discussions on recent Czech production. Is it correct to use this term?
I think it is premature. I used the phrase myself very carefully last year, and tried to use it in more of a wishful context. Wave is a phenomenon that, by its very nature, comes back around, and I am afraid that we have not come so far yet. 

The 51st edition has a special section called A Female Take on Mexico. Is this a reaction to the booming South American film production and gender inequality in the film industry?
We are continuing with what we did in 2009, when we organised a similar showcase focused on young Russian female filmmakers. So it is clear that we are not riding the gender wave that is currently influencing programming. We like to focus on certain parts of the world that we deem interesting and inspirational from the perspective of film production. We have been following Mexican production for some time, and in recent years, the number of female filmmakers whose film style is original and uncompromising has been on the up, and that style is just the thing we’re looking for.

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