In the five years that I’ve been fortunate enough to watch movies for a living, I’ve likewise been blessed with the opportunity to attend a number of international film festivals. I’ve felt Oscar buzz start to brew in Toronto. I’ve seen bold freshman films in Rotterdam. I’ve braved the subway crush in peak hour on my way to opening night in New York. And that’s to say nothing of that beautiful, exhausting marathon that rolls through Melbourne every year.
But of all my festival experiences, the one that sticks out most in my mind is my pilgrimage to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2013. And no, it’s not just because I arrived in town the day the festival began only to discover my accommodation had fallen through and I had nowhere to sleep. (Fortunately, after much negotiating/exasperated hand-waving, alternate arrangements were made).
What I loved most about my time in Karlovy Vary was the sense that the whole town was consumed by cinema. As wonderful as festivals like TIFF and MIFF may be, the reality is that they take place in major urban centres. Non-cinephiles could easily spend a week in downtown Melbourne in early August and have no idea that the festival was even on.
Not so in Karlovy Vary. From the red carpet outside the resplendent Hotel Pupp to the enormous film posters standing on stilts by the banks of the river, the signs of the festival were everywhere. I suppose that the annual influx of interloping journalists, filmmakers and movie-lovers probably grows rather tedious for locals. But speaking as one of those interlopers, it was heaven.
The particular filmic highlights are too numerous to mention, although it’s hard to forget watching The Ring, one of the earliest surviving silent pictures of the great Alfred Hitchcock, in the spectacular surrounds of the Karlovy Vary Theatre. Fittingly, the best contemporary film I saw at the festival was a local one. Jan Hřebejk’s uneasy wedding drama Líbánky (Honeymoon) got under my skin and stayed there for days – although if memory serves, CaSFFA Artistic Director Cerise Howard was not nearly as enamoured with it as I was.
I must confess that my knowledge of Czech and Slovak cinema is, on the whole, fairly limited. Beyond the handful of films caught at MIFFs and CaSFFAs gone by, I have an enormous admiration for the early films of Miloš Forman, particularly Hoří, má panenko (The Fireman’s Ball), along with a degree of familiarity with the animated work of Jan Švankmajer. Nevertheless, I am very much looking to delving into the program at this year’s Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia – and hope it can live up to the high bar set by my experiences in Karlovy Vary.
Tom Clift is one of three members of the Australian Film Critics Association who will judge the Best New Feature Film at this year’s CaSFFA. His AFCA colleagues Glenn Dunks and Hayley Inch will be introduced here in coming days, with all set to contribute another blog post during the festival as well.