Fireworks & James Bond to Begin the 52nd Karlovy Vary Film Festival
by Alex Billington
June 30, 2017
I am attending the Karlovy Vary Film Festival for my very first time this year, and I'm already in love with it. This charming, energetic festival takes place in a small spa town called Karlovy Vary (or also known as Carlsbad) about two hours west of Prague in the Czech Republic. The festival is celebrating its 52nd year, and they've been gaining more and more recognition in the last few years. Living in Berlin now, Prague is just a short hop away, so I decided to attend Karlovy Vary for my first time and catch up on more great films this year. It's always exciting to attend a film festival for the first time, and this one is special. I couldn't be happier to be here and begin watching films, discovering more gems after Sundance, Berlinale, and Cannes.
The first time I heard about Karlovy Vary was from my friend Eric Lavallee from IONCinema. He has been a few times previous, and loves the festival, sharing amazing stories about it and carrying around his festival bag all year long. I also heard about it from my cinephile colleague David Ehrlich (from Indiewire), who attended Karlovy Vary last year and was also raving about it; and I've heard nothing but great things from Anne Thompson. It is always a good sign when many other film festival friends are telling you how great another different film festival is, and they're definitely right about it. This place is awesome! And I've only seen one film so far (God's Own Country), but it's a very beautiful place with an rejuvenating, fresh-air vibe.
After seeing my first film at night at a local cinema, I walked outside and stumbled upon a massive open-to-everyone ceremony taking place outside of the main hotel in the middle of town. A live orchestra was setup on a stage nearby, playing music from James Bond movies. At the stroke of midnight, they started to play "Skyfall" (originally by Adele) and fireworks synced to the song lit up the night sky. Czech beer was available everywhere, as well as tasty late night food, and suddenly I was in heaven. Fireworks, with a live orchestra playing James Bond music, good food/beer, all to kick off a film festival?! You've got to be kidding me. This was one of the best opening ceremonies I've ever been to at any film festival, and I'm not even exaggerating.
So what films are showing at Karlovy Vary? The two spotlight features are Taylor Sheridan's Wind River and David Lowery's A Ghost Story (both originally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival). Aside from a bunch of Czech indie films premiering in competition, they're also showing highlights from other festivals including: Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled, Jonas Carpignano' A Ciambra, Michael Haneke's Happy End, Fatih Akin's In the Fade, Aki Kaurismäki's The Other Side of Hope, Lone Scherfig's Their Finest, Helene Hegemann's Axolotl Overkill, Joshua Z Weinstein's Menashe, Kogonada's Columbus, Francis Lee's God's Own Country, Katell Quillévéré's Heal the Living, Ben Young's Hounds of Love, Léonor Serraille's Jeune Femme. For the full line-up, head to the official website. There are quite a few gems here.
For now I'm just happy to be here in Karlovy Vary and excited to keep watching films, catching up on many of them I've already been hearing about. And I hope to discover some films that I wasn't expecting to love or had never heard about before. Years ago, I wrote an article about how the best film festivals in the world are the ones located in small towns that are not easy to get to - you have to drive in (or take a bus), you can't fly in easily. You can add Karlovy Vary to that list, along with Telluride, Cannes, Sundance, Locarno, and a few others. I'll be writing more about my experiences at the fest over the next week, and hopefully it continues to impress me. I have a feeling I will only fall in love with it more as I get to know the town and the festival.