Nearing in on its half-century, Karlovy Vary, set in a beautiful Bohemian spa town in the Czech Republic, launches its 48th edition festival this Friday. The event is among the highest ranked competitive festivals by FIAPF, the International Federation of Film Producers Associations – colloquially referred to as an “A”-list festival – in the ranks of Cannes, Berlin, Venice, and Locarno, among other European powerhouses. Its geographic location allows it to serve as a bridge between Western and Eastern Europe cinema, while its position on the calendar allows it to launch new films outside of the shadow of Cannes and before the busy late Summer/early Fall festivals. Its setting and the weather also serve as a great excuse for a party, as thousands of university students annually backpack to the event to watch some films and drink until the wee hours of the night. With upwards of 180 features in the lineup, it’s easy to see how the event takes over the town, drawing not only students, but a large industry presence as well. While I won’t be attending, the following highlights some of the nearly 40 nonfiction or hybrids that will be screening this year:
Ten new or recent titles are part of Karlovy Vary’s Documentary Films in Competition. Among these are a couple of neighbors: From the Slovak Republic, Pavol Korec’s EXHIBITS OR STORIES FROM THE CASTLE (pictured), a portrait of the aging populace that resides in a castle that’s been converted into a retirement home; and from Austria, Paul-Julien Robert’s MY FATHERS, MY MOTHER & ME, an archive-driven personal story of the filmmaker’s experience growing up in a commune, and of his search for his father. Hailing from a bit further away are Russia’s PIPELINE, Ukrainian director Vitaly Manskiy’s exploration of normal life alongside the Trans-Siberian pipeline that serves much of Europe; Croatia’s GANGSTER OF LOVE, Nebojša Slijepčević’s comedic look at a matchmaker trying to find a husband for a Bulgarian single mother amongst a skeptical and often prejudiced pool of potential grooms; and from South Korea, CAPTAIN KANG, Won Ho-yeon’s portrait of a paraplegic fisherman and his supportive family.
In the fest’s official Out of Competition documentary section are an additional ten features. Aside from some well-traveled titles are a number of less familiar ones, including: Dagmar Smržová’s THE STORY OF MR LOVE (pictured), following an active, schizophrenic Czech man and his caretaker grandmother; Peter Liechti’s FATHER’S GARDEN – THE LOVE OF MY PARENTS, the director’s attempt to capture the relationship of his parents, together over six decades; and Andreas Pichler’s THE VENICE SYNDROME, an exploration of the deleterious effect of tourism on the Italian city.
Beyond these main doc sections, there are a smattering of other non-fiction and hybrid works in other strands of the festival. The East of the West competition includes the world premiere of Ivan Ostrochovský, Pavol Pekarčík, and Peter Kerekes’ VELVET TERRORISTS, a look back at the efforts of three men imprisoned for acts of resistance against the Czechoslovakian communist regime; Horizons features Rithy Panh’s Cannes winning THE MISSING PICTURE, a personal reflection of time spent in Khmer Rouge labor camps; Another View offers Visra Vichit-Vadakan’s KARAOKE GIRL, about a teenager who turns to sex work in Bangkok to support her family back home; the fest’s experimental section Imagina includes Thomas Heise’s CONSEQUENCE, a wordless exploration of a crematorium; and the annual Czech Films strand offers up Adam Ol’ha’s NEW LIFE OF FAMILY ALBUM (pictured), a personal investigation into the director’s father, who left his family for another woman; and Silvie Dymáková’s CROOKS, an exposé of the way Czech seniors are being taken advantage of by dodgy salespeople.