One of Europe’s oldest and most respected film festivals, Karlovy Vary, begins its 47th edition this Friday and runs through July 7. Set in a picturesque spa city in the Czech Republic’s Bohemia, the A-list event serves as a mid-Summer launching point for scores of new films, and draws attendees from around the world to the crossroads of Western and Eastern Europe, including 10,000 backpacking students who camp out in a local soccer stadium, watch films all day, and party all night. I attended last year’s festival for Indiewire and had a fantastic time. While I’m unfortunately not returning this year, I have looked through the roughly 180 features in its lineup to identify 35 documentary features. Of these, here are some highlights – films I would check out if I were Europe-bound:
While non-fiction at Karlovy Vary is represented in seven different sections of the programming, most are separated out in two doc-specific strands – Docs in Competition, and Docs Out of Competition. The first category includes ten feature-length films as well a handful of shorts. A few are familiar from other festivals, including THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (Sundance), THIS AIN’T CALIFORNIA (Berlinale), and PRIVATE UNIVERSE and POLISH ILLUSIONS (Hot Docs). Of the remaining competition films, I’m interested in two world premieres, Alicia Cano’s THE BELLA VISTA, on a soccer clubhouse that is turned first into a transvestite brothel and then a Catholic chapel; and Timo Novotny’s TRAINS OF THOUGHT, an cinematic essay exploring world subway systems; as well as Ilian Metev’s SOFIA’S LAST AMBULANCE (pictured), an observational doc on the three-person ambulance teams serving Bulgaria’s capital.
The out-of-competition doc-specific section includes nine films, including acclaimed titles like SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN, THE AMBASSADOR, and WHORES’ GLORY. Remaining titles are mostly portraits of notable Czechs, which sound likely to have mainly local appeal, though the unwieldily titled OBSCURANTIST AND HIS LINEAGE OR THE PYRAMIDS’ TEARFUL VALLEYS (pictured), an essay on religion, faith, and skepticism by Karel Vachek, sounds intriguing. Additionally, Italian director Pietrro Marcello’s THE SILENCE OF PELESJAN, a tribute to an obscure Armenian filmmaker in the tradition of Eisenstein and Vertov, looks worth checking out.
Not surprisingly, given their general popularity, music docs make up the bulk of the remaining documentary programming at the festival in its 2012: A Musical Odyssey strand. Seven of the eight titles here are doc features, including Sundance titles UNDER AFRICAN SKIES and SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS. Though music docs are not typically at the top of my list to see, I am drawn to Marek Sulik and Jana Buckova’s BELLS OF HAPPINESS (pictured), looking at two destitute Roma who dream of becoming celebrities; and Steve Elkins’ THE REACH OF RESONANCE, a portrait of musicians connected through the Kronos Quartet who use their gifts to interact on a global scale, is also intriguing.
Remaining doc features include Sundance alum on the hidden meanings of THE SHINING, ROOM 237 and Mark Cousins’ fifteen-hour THE STORY OF FILM, both in the Out of the Past section; Cousins’ WHAT IS THIS FILM CALLED LOVE, appearing out of competition in the Official Selection, a poetic doc on happiness; Berlinale Golden Bear winner CAESAR MUST DIE, a docudrama hybrid focused on a Shakespearean production in a Roman prison, in the Horizons section; Another View’s DREAMS OF A LIFE, Carol Morely’s exploration of a mysterious death, and Ester Martin Bergsmark’s Jarmanesque portrait of a trans artist, SHE MALE SNAILS (pictured); and, finally, a handful of films included in the fest’s tributes to Michaelangelo Antonioni and Jean-Pierre Melville.