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Jiri Bartoska • President of Karlovy Vary F.F.

"A meeting point for people of the industry"


Jiri Bartoska • President of Karlovy Vary F.F.

Jiri Bartoska is a known Czech actor but in the last decade or so he has acquired additional fame as the president of the growing in stature International Film Festival in Karlovy Vary. People like Liv Ulmann, Robert Redford, Sharon Stone or Alexander Payne are invited to show up this year but the headlines, says Bartoska, should also be about the quality of the competition in Karlovy Vary and the atmosphere of the so-called “Woodstock of the East” event in the attractive North Bohemia city.

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Karlovy Vary is the second oldest film festival in Europe, this year celebrating 40th edition…
It’s funny but we could have done more; it could have been its 59th edition this year but for the Soviet “normalization” of 1968 which forced a kind of “break” of 19 years to the festival. During that period mainly Soviet or regime-friendly films were presented. After [the political changes of] 1989 the still state-run festival tried to go back into the glory days of the 60s but it just couldn’t happen and it was cancelled altogether. In 1993, I with [current program director Mrs] Eva Zaoralova and a few others created the Karlovy Vary Film Foundation, trying to re-create the glory days of the festival and the Czech cinema of the 1960s… We’re in our 12th year working together now and I want to believe that we’ve at least achieved something. The official selection-competition remains the backbone of the festival, with films like Amelie or Nowhere in Africa [+see also:
film profile
for example winning here in the past.

This can often make people expect things…
Czech Republic is a small country for a big festival. We have the disadvantage that we cannot be like Berlin or Cannes where the main distributors are focused. But people know that we have a quality competition section and unique sections like "East of the West" mapping the cinematography of the after-Soviet era, which also remains extremely appealing…And good thing for us is that the festival has become a kind of meeting point for people of the industry, as Karlovy Vary is a small place, so our visitors are bound to meet each other!

They also meet a lot of people with rucksacks. Karlovy Vary is called the “Woodstock of the East” because of this…
It’s true, a big part of our audience is young people, students, campers, but this is not a bad thing. I would say it is normal in a country where this generation longs to see something different from the average Czech film or the big studio productions offered by the multiplexes: Danish or Dutch or Canadian films that would not probably be distributed here otherwise. The young need to be “informed” of what’s going out there and Karlovy Vary offers them a chance to combine fun with cinema…

The real problem though remains the condition of some of the theatres…
We have a budget for the organization of the festival. The theatres are a responsibility of the town of Karlovy Vary and one third of them are actually below standard for this kind of event. Personally I believe that the local authority, even the state, have to use the Karlovy Vary brand to their prospect, organizing more actions there every year and then reinvest the profit to improve the theatres. I don’t say that a 52,000 inhabitant town needs a multiplex but it can at least renovate the existing ones…

Why there are never many Czech films in the official selection?
Most Czech directors have an ambition to get to Cannes or to Berlin. They mostly fail, as it might be expected since most of them shoot films specifically for the Czech market. They come back to us afterwards wondering if we want to have their films shown here. We say no, thanks, we’re not a garbage-bin of rejects of other festivals…

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