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Karlovy Vary 39th (2004) International Film Festival by Alice Black, Ireland

Cesky SEN


Tucked away in a valley between two huge forests, is the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary, home to one of the largest European film festivals. Once a year, it becomes a bustling metropolis full of students, journalists and filmmakers who gather in the Hotel Thermal – a monument to the wonders of communist architecture – to sample cinema from around the world.

After a slightly odd opening ceremony, which involved giant balloons, dancers with g-strings, and a lifetime achievement award for Harvey Keitel, the festival began with The Boys From Co. Clare, a new film by John Irvin starring Colm Meany and Bernard Hill who were all in attendance. Filmed on the Isle of Man, The Boys From Co. Clare is not destined to become an Irish classic, but the audience enjoyed it and gave it a rapturous applause.

The next day, we got down to business in earnest. Petr Kronc, from the Czech Republic was our hardworking chair who liased with the festival organisers to ensure that we had all the information we needed. The rest of the jury consisted of Torbjřrn Grav from Norway, Gunar Klapp from Germany, Lorenzo Oss Pegorar from Italy and myself.

The films in competition were an uneven bunch, ranging from the very strong to the absolutely dismal. After much heated debate, the FICC jury gave the main prize to The Riverside, an Iranian film which followed the plight of Kurdish refugees in Iraq trying to cross the border to Iran. “The Don Quixote Prize is awarded to The Riverside which the jury felt was a very pure form of cinema. Ali-Reza Amini's poetic images communicate a very simple story where a woman's tragic situation, a father's grief, a lost cow - all become powerful universal symbols of the human struggle. Even when faced with the knowledge that all hope is gone, the human spirit longs to make a connection, to place their faith in one another and try to survive.”

We also decided to give a special mention to the Danish film Aftermath, directed by Paprika Steen. This film, following a couple’s struggle to come to terms with the death of their young daughter touched all the jury members. “Special mention is awarded to Aftermath for its brave and honest exploration of relationships, between man and wife, between friends, between parent and child. Paprika Steen has created a wonderfully balanced film which treats a difficult subject with respect and dignity. Her film shows us that grief can bring laughter as well as tears.”

The official jury’s best prize went to the Italian film Certi Bambini, directed by twin brothers Andrea and Antonio Frazzi. Other prizes were given to León and Olivido, Napola, and Tu. The audience award went to a VIEWING:SESSIONS O4 favourite, The Story of The Weeping Camel. A full list of award winners can be found on the festival website: www.kviff.com.

Of the 33 films I saw, there were many highlights, but the best was a tip I got from Petr Kronc, our Czech jury member who recommended that I try to see Cesky Sen, a documentary made by two film students from Prague. For their graduating project, these filmmakers had commissioned a well-known advertising agency to create a huge advertising campaign for a fictitious hypermarket called Czech Dream. Then on May 31, 2003 several thousand eager citizens arrived for the launch of the longed-for-shopping centre only to find a giant painted facade. This brilliant film captured the whole process, from conception to execution and also the near riot that took place when the public learned that they had been duped. For me, Cesky Sen summed up my experience with at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival – it was cheeky and full of energy and I loved every minute of it.

Alice Black, access CINEMA