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  • Hooman Razavi

Festivals In Crisis: A Conversation With Karel Och, The Artistic Director Of Karlovy Vary Festival

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

By: Hooman Razavi

Phoenix Journal had the opportunity to interview Karel Och the Artistic Director of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF). As one of the oldest film festivals, in its 55th year, the advent of corona outbreak has caused cancellation and reprogramming by festival team. The interview opens a great window/venue to inform the readers of these measures including Czech public audience reaction, alternative options offered, festival engagements with other stakeholders and reflections on future of festival/cinema in general.

Hooman Razavi, Phoenix Journal (PJ): Given the situation with corona outbreak, can you explain the decision process to cancel 55th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival? Why the alternatives options were not considered?

Karel Och (KO): The festival management, namely KVIFF´s president Jiri Bartoska has been in touch with the local authorities concerning the situation in the summer for quite some time. By the end of April when the decision had to be made concerning whether to go with the festival, or, to cancel, it was clear that no one could guarantee any kind of gathering above 100 persons. Karlovy Vary IFF is place known for big spontaneous gatherings of thousands and thousands of people who are enjoying the atmosphere - anything similar, which is one of the festival´s essential elements could not be guaranteed; therefore the decision has been made to cancel thee KVIFF 2020.

PJ: How has this decision impacted Karlovy Vary IFF financially? Is there any backup support from Czech government to compensate the expenses?

KO: The Czech government announced the financial help to cultural events impacted by the corona outbreak.

PJ: Can you elaborate on the initiative to screen 16 films at 96 movie theatres across Czech Republic? What were the motivations and goals?

KO: By the end of April it was also clear that at some point of late May / early June the movie theaters will be operating again. We knew we could not welcome our audience the way we are used to, so we decided to put together a selection, which we would offer to Czech cinemas in every corner of our beautiful country. The films we would have presented had the festival happened. We expected some 40-50 cinemas to respond, and were quite speechless when nearly 100 theaters responded positively. Another aim of KVIFF AT YOUR CINEMA event is to give a hand to the exhibitors to bring the audience back to the movie theatres.

PJ: Also in regards to screening 16 films, how did you choose the selected films, including three acclaimed titles, European premiers, Luxor, Identifying Features, and the Mole Agent? Did you have to coordinate with the filmmakers again?

KO: While putting together the selection our intention was to extend lives of the films, which premiered between Venice FF 2019 and Berlinale 2020 (especially the titles premiering at the latter event had no further cinema exploitation after the Berlin presentation). The mentioned films were launched in January at the Sundance festival and even though we “chased” them because of how outstanding they are (and not for the premiere) we ended up securing the first screenings ever on our continent in no less than three cases! Our gratitude goes to the sales agents and their trust in us being able to provide a substantial promotion for these amazing films.

PJ: In terms of these initiatives, did you get consent from Czech authorities to hold the screenings in the cinema? How does the health regulation will be enforced?

KO: KVIFF did not need a special consent, the festival simply follows the rules and the laws established in the situation of (not only) emergency. As previously mentioned, the cinemas reopened in May and KVIFF is simply offering a curated batch of exceptional movies. On top of that, as of today (June 8) the cinemas can host up to 500 persons per screening and the social distancing measures (every second seat free, every second row free) are no longer required.

PJ: In terms of KVIFF participation in “We Are One” Film Festival, can you elaborate on the four measures to screen Czech films such as restoration of Oldrich Lipsky Adela Has Not Had Supper Yet? And selected short films of Future Frames and festival trailers by advertising directors Ivan Zacharias and Martin Krejci?

KO: There was a high demand for comedies or other examples of genres, which can lift up the spirit of people around the world suffering the pandemic. We picked Adela Has Not Had Supper Yet as it is a hilarious detective parody, which very smartly uses American references (especially the pulp novels, private eyes etc.) and filters them through a very typical Czech sarcastic humor. KVIFF has been supporting young and aspiring filmmakers for a long time, and Future Frames are a strong example of such tendency. Another KVIFF speciality are the famous trailers, again injected with the irresistible Czech inclination to mock everything, often in a very funny way.

PJ: Based on you gauging Czech film buffs and media, what have been their reactions to festival cancellations and new initiatives?

KO: The day we announced that the 55th KVIFF will not take place in 2020 in many places in Prague it looked like a sort of a mourning. People were spotted wearing festival shirts, bags etc. that particular day, the response on social media was simply overwhelmingly sympathetic, yet very very sad. This was another reason why we did not want to wait too long to offer another event not only to our fans but also to those who, for whatever reason, could not make it to Karlovy Vary so far.

PJ: In general, how do you see corona outbreak will influence cinema industry and festivals?

KO: It has infected our industry already, unfortunately. We can only hope the damages will not be irreversible. The festivals will have to incorporate a lot of new security measures, which is understandable.

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