The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) is one of the oldest A-list competitive feature film festivals in the world, joining the ranks of Berlin, Cannes, and Tokyo. It has survived a revolution and an economic recession, but now the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing organisers to rethink.
Thankfully, not all is lost. Instead of the usual star-studded gathering in the Bohemian spa town, the festival is moving to nearly 100 cinemas across Czechia on the exact dates it was originally scheduled. It seems that not even a pandemic can stand in the way of the prestigious KIVFF.
The KVIFF ‘at your cinema’ event has this week been screening 16 major films to over 80 Czech towns and cities. Not only is this aimed at keeping the festival alive, but also to support an industry which many believe will not be the same for quite some time.
This sets Karlovy Vary apart from other, smaller festivals which have chosen to screen their films online, a move which would contradict the festival’s philosophy. KVIFF will, however, show its industry programme virtually.
“We strongly believe that seeing a movie with other people in a theatre is a powerful and irreplaceable experience,” says Jiří Bartoška, president of the festival, “and because the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is one of the most important cultural events in the Czech Republic and in Europe, we have decided that holding an alternative version would go against the festival’s main mission: to bring together audiences, filmmakers, and people from different walks of life in order to collectively enjoy works of cinema.”
Screening the films across the country allows them to enjoy a prolonged life. Many of the 2020 films will not have the opportunity to be screened at festival, as without knowing it, the Berlinale that took place in February was their last chance.
This makes the adaptiveness of the KVIFF so valuable. While the number of films is less than desired, the screenings will be something to remember, in an effort to keep the magic of cinema alive. As the festival’s artistic director Karel Oct told Radio Prague, “there will be no fewer than 14 personal introductions by members of programming team, and also from the executive director, Kryštof Mucha, while in Brno and Jihlava, even Jiří Bartoška, the president of the festival, will be introducing films. So it’s quite special.”
Another aim of the festival’s adaption is to establish a connection between the audience and their city with Karlovy Vary, a town many are unlikely to have visited. The organisers want to focus on films that draw in the audience with the atmosphere of the spa town, and the energy the festival brings to it, as well as the wider region.
Fittingly, films will also be showing at Karlovy Vary itself. “Basically, we’re just too strongly connected to the place. We’re so happy and so lucky to have Karlovy Vary, since the 1940s,” explains Mr Oct, “and the idea of not going to Karlovy Vary in late June or early July was just unacceptable.”
This is especially important considering the festival’s tumultuous and impressive history. Beginning in 1946 in Mariánské Lázně, it moved to Karlovy Vary the following year, and was intended to screen the results of the recently nationalised film industry. From there, the festival’s success quickly took off. From 1951 it hosted an international jury and soon established itself as one of the most prestigious film events in Central and Eastern Europe, alternating with Moscow between 1953 and 1993. Since 1956, KVIFF has been listed as an ‘A’ category festival.
The 1989 revolution that ended 40 years of socialist rule in Czechoslovakia threatened the following year’s festival, but it was saved in 1990 when a collection of old Czechoslovak films was found in storage.
By 1992, the festival’s finances were in jeopardy, but once again it was saved by a new team, headed by well-known Czech actor Jiří Bartoška and leading film journalist Eva Zaoralová who took over the festival’s organisation in 1994. Between Mr Bartoška and Ms Zaoralová, the festival began to reshape. Once again, it was welcoming big international names, and has since continued to build on its proud history.
This is part of what makes the festival’s alteration this year so monumental. Yet with Czechia’s 50-person per cinema rule, some of the magic can be retained in the screening of these films, as Mr Oct explains: “And it’s cinemas – it’s not online, it’s a cinema experience. So we care to do this.”
This however raises the question regarding the future of film festivals, one which many organisers feel apprehensive towards until the implementation of a Covid-19 vaccine. But it isn’t all bad news.
“If there is a small limitation for the audience, which will not reduce the number of people in the hall – [a restriction] which is almost gone now – or reduce the possibility to gather to discuss the films in the streets or in the pubs, which is one of the main elements of festival, then for us it will be the same.”
A further, shortened version of the festival is scheduled from November 18-21, but will not be counted as an official edition.
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