Karlovy Vary artistic advisor Eva Zaoralová with, from left, artistic director Karel Och, production manager Petr Lintimer, executive director Kryštof Mucha, president of the festival Jiří Bartoška, and presenter Marek Eben Photo: Courtesy of KVIFF
With her trademark black-rimmed spectacles and blonde hair she was an unmistakeable presence at the festival which was established in 1946 as the leading film event in Central and eastern Europe.
Zaoralová, a film journalist with a passion for French cinema in particular and Czech actor Jiří Bartoška formed a new team in 1994 as artistic director and president respectively with the aim of restoring the event to international status after years of political interference by the former Communist regime. She stepped down due to failing health in 2010 and Karel Och took over - but she was ever present as artistic advisor.
In statement issued by the Festival today (11 March), her co-conspirator Bartoška paid tribute by saying: “Eva and I always liked to joke that our relationship was a kind of permitted second marriage. It lasted nearly 30 years. When you spend that much time creating something with someone, it is difficult to come to terms with the fact that the other person is no longer there, that the end is final.”
The festival in the Bohemian spa town has attracted mega-names of world cinema including Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Harvey Keitel, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Susan Sarandon, John Travolta Mel Gibson and Richard Gere as well as directors from Ken Loach and William Friedkin to Stephen Frears and Franco Zeffirelli.
Meeting John Malkovich … Eva Zaoralová with one of the legion of stars who attended the Festival over the years Photo: Courtesy of KVIFF
Most people referred to her as “Dr. Zaoralová” because of her academic achievements although, modest to a fault, she resisted being shown such awed respect.
At a recent ceremony for yet another commendation for Zaoralová, Bartoška paid a further tribute with these warm words: “Since taking over the Karlovy Vary festival, Eva and I have experienced so many things, and it is difficult to think of just a few moments to remember. In the beginning, we were both enthusiastic amateurs who approached everything with an open heart but without any practical experience. We ended up in some unpleasant situations and learned as we went along.
"After working together for more than a quarter century, I think I can say that we succeeded in building KVIFF into a respected brand name. And even though today’s programming team consists of her successors, onto whom she passed her experience, Eva remains an inseparable part of this team, its face. Without her, the Karlovy Vary festival would never have become what it is today.”
The current Festival organisers also added to the tributes: "It may sound clichéd to say that she will always be with us, and if there is one thing Eva did not like it was clichés – not in films and not in life. We will miss her. Eva was one of the most important representatives of Czech film journalism and criticism. In her many years as a journalist, she contributed significantly to the development of film journalism, helped to popularise Italian and French cinema, and was internationally respected within her field.” She spent many years involved in the activities of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI).
This year’s Festival is scheduled to run from 1 to 9 July.