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KARLOVY VARY 2021

Karel Och • Artistic Director, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

“KVIFF is a strong brand which has been through a lot since 1946”

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- The artistic director of the largest Czech film gathering talks about the current edition and the festival's post-pandemic future

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

Karel Och has been involved with the largest Czech film gathering, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, for two decades, and appointed its artistic director in 2010. Cineuropa talked to Och on the cusp of the postponed 55th edition about the pandemic year, its impact on the festival, the development of Czech cinema and what lies ahead for KVIFF.

Cineuropa: Last year's edition was postponed to this year. After the effort to pull off a smaller event with KVIFF 54 ½, which did not pan out (read the news), you managed to roll out a decentralised on-site showcase in domestic cinemas, titled KVIFF In Your Cinema (read the news).  What have you, as a festival and an artistic director, learned from 2020?
Karel Och: It all goes down to your team, you can survive only if you all stick together, sharing both hope and sadness, helping each other to survive a year like that. But we also shared a lot of positive energy with 96 exhibitors all over the country who helped us reach almost 40k admissions in one week. Now we’re back home, in Karlovy Vary, but still planning to continue our collaboration with Czech cinemas.

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How will the experience of 2020 impact the post-pandemic future of KVIFF?
Not much, I’d say, obviously not counting the special security measures, which at some point will go away, inevitably. KVIFF is a strong brand which has been through a lot since 1946. Like our predecessors, we’ve learned from lessons such as censorship, political and social changes and so on. With a hint of arrogance, I dare to say it will make us stronger. Look at what is happening around KVIFF.TV (read the news), our brand-new project which will soon be followed by others.

The festival underwent a transformation in recent years – the geographic extension to the Middle East, a streamlining of the programming structure and the addition of a new video platform this year. However, the domestic audiovisual landscape and the industry are significantly changing, what will be also reflected by the foundation of a new Audiovisual Fund (read the news). Will the festival incorporate these shifts in the industry somehow in the near future?
We love doing things the old way, meaning we keep on promoting the original reason for which festivals are so popular, which is to create a momentum for a filmmaker to meet the audience and to listen, to feel, to argue etc. However, as any ambitious festival, we love new challenges and enjoy working on how to connect the old-fashioned, classical aspect of the festival with new technologies which allow you to reach a wider audience during the rest of the year. Physical and online do not have to exclude one another, on the contrary.

Czech cinema has been significantly present at KVIFF 2018 and there is a pretty strong representation in this year’s line-up, including in the main competition. Despite that fact that your programming team was selecting films from an accumulation of almost two years, what other reasons are there for such a strong representation of domestic films?
It was a good year. We have seen about twice as many films compared to the past few years and ended up loving many. The crucial element of any discussion with my team is whether we believe a certain title can be interesting for the audience abroad, whether its maker is able to speak to others , and not only Czechs. Václav Kadrnka, Olmo Omerzu, Erika Hníková, Jan Foukal, Šimon Holý, Adéla Komrzý and others certainly are, I am more than sure that their films will travel a lot after KVIFF.

How did Czech cinema evolve over the course of the last two years from your point view as artistic director?
Being humble and persistent, speaking English, watching contemporary cinema, travelling to festivals to meet people from the industry, to support your colleagues and to accept their support – I believe a filmmaker needs to do all of this if he or she wants to succeed. It has not been the case with Czech filmmakers in the past as much as it is now, and that is a game changing element.

How would you assess the state of Central and Eastern European cinema in general after the impact of the pandemic?
I don’t think I am able to answer this question this early, as we are not completely out of the pandemic. We will need to wait until next year to fully assess this.

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