Travolta Czechs it out

Karlovy Vary in gear to go global.

by Richard Mowe

The Czech Republic's annual summer showcase of world cinema, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, which opens its 48th edition on Friday (28 June), fields a vast programme, including at least six world premieres in the main competition lineup.

John Travolta in Killing Season, to be presented at Karlovy Vary.
John Travolta in Killing Season, to be presented at Karlovy Vary.

The festival, hosted in a Bohemian spa town two hours' drive from Prague, also offers plenty of star power, headed by John Travolta who will attend a gala screening of Mark Steven Johnson’s Killing Season.

The two-time Oscar nominee, famed for his performances in Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Pulp Fiction, The Taking Of Pelham 1,2,3 and a raft of other international box office hits, will receive the festival’s prestigious Crystal Globe lifetime achievement award.

The festival has forged a reputation in the last 15 years for attracting top talent to its red carpet events with previous guests including Helen Mirren, Robert De Niro, Lauren Bacall, Morgan Freeman, Rod Steiger, Gus Van Sant, Keira Knightley, Susan Sarandon, Scarlett Johannson, Robert Redford, Dame Judi Dench, Michael Douglas and Danny Glover.

Considered one of Europe’s most relaxed festivals where stars and political luminaries - such as the late Czech president Václav Havel who was a frequent visitor before his death in 2011 - mingle with guests, the event has a reputation for spotting emerging new talents from Eastern Europe and Asia as well as for screening intelligent and popular retrospectives. A legion of students and film fans camp out under the stars to catch the screenings in assorted venues.

Jiri Bartoska, the Czech actor who is the festival’s president, told me: “John Travolta is an artist of incredible versatile talent. Aside from extraordinary popularity, he has gained particular recognition with the industry’s professional circles. His contribution to work cinema is unquestionable."

Mood Indigo - the opening choice at Karlovy Vary with Audrey Tautou in attendance.
Mood Indigo - the opening choice at Karlovy Vary with Audrey Tautou in attendance.

French star Audrey Tautou will attend to present her latest film, Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo as the opening night choice. She stars alongside Romain Duris in the adaptation of the Boris Vian novel, L’Ecume des jours. Billed as a poetic fantasy about making sacrifices for a loved one, the film marks Gondry's return to filmmaking after last year's The We And The I.

Other guests will include Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre director Cary Fukunaga, with his new film Sleepwalking In The Rift, British actor Julian Sands in a special stage performance of A Celebration Of Harold Pinter, directed by John Malkovich, and Italian filmmakers Paulo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) and Valeria Golino (Miele).

Bartoska described Gondry as "one of the most original filmmakers on the current international scene. Like his contemporaries - Spike Jonze or David Fincher - he steers clear of the straightforward, mainstream route; he aims to present his audiences with a fresh view of the world."

Noteworthy titles include filmmaker Ben Wheatley's latest A Field In England, described as a psychedelic trip into magic and madness set in the English Civil War of the mid-17th century. Debut US director Lance Edmands presents Bluebird, the filmmaker's existential look at a small-town community made in the best tradition of American independent film. The Competition world premieres include Jan Hrebejk’s Czech/Slovak coproduction Honeymoon.

Krzysztof Krauzeand and Joanna Kos-Krauze, the creators of the winning film at the 2005 KVIFF edition, My Nikifor, will now be competing for the third time with a stylised, black-and-white story Papusza, about a woman who published poems and confronted the traditional female role in the gypsy community.

Also vying for the laurels a second time will be Israeli filmmaker Yossi Madmony, who won over the jury two years ago with his film Restoration. His latest drama, A Place In Heaven takes a new look at the father-son relationship, this time against a backdrop of four decades of Israeli history.

Polish director Agnieszka Holland, who studied at Prague’s FAMU film school during the late 1960s, will head the main jury.

Holland, whose three-part HBO series Burning Bush -- a drama about the circumstances surrounding the self-immolation of 20-year-old Czechoslovak student Jan Palach that Holland witnessed while a student at FAMU in January 1969 -- will be shown for the first time on the big screen at the festival.

Paolo Sorrentino will present The Great Beauty at Karlovy Vary.
Paolo Sorrentino will present The Great Beauty at Karlovy Vary.

Holland who rarely agrees to join festival juries, has said the festival’s “open and unexpected” programme selections had prompted her to make an exception.

Director Oliver Stone will also be honoured, with a Crystal Globe for Lifetime Achievement this year. Stone will present special screenings of two episodes of The Untold History Of The United States, a 10-hour documentary TV series, which focuses on human events that at the time went underreported but crucially shaped America’s history in the 20th century. Two restored silent films from the 1920s will be shown: J.S. Kolar's The Arrival of Darkness, a Czech production, as well as Alfred Hitchcock's 1927 The Ring and both will feature live musical accompaniment.

The festival runs June 28 through July 6.

Richard Mowe, who is a member of the Fipresci jury (the international federation of film critics), will contribute regular reports and reviews from Karlovy Vary.

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