If you pay attention to film festivals at all, you might have heard about the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Although not in the same size and cope as Cannes, Venice or Berlin, it is still one of the larger and well-known of the larger European film festivals.
Admittedly, most of my “non-film” friends and family here in Norway only looked confused when I mentioned Karlovy Vary the first time I went there last year, but such conversations would often loosen up with “Ah, Karlsbad, I know where that is!”
Every year the Karlovy Vary hosts the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF for short), and for the past two times, I’ve attended – first as a member of the FIPRESCI (The International Federation of Film Critics) non-statutory jury and this year as a journalist, after being invited to return.
Still reeling from grief and struggling to hold back tears after a personal loss only the day before I was scheduled to leave for Karlovy Vary, I thought the distance and the old “getting away for a while” would do me good. And in a way, it helped. I arrived in Prague in the early hours on Tuesday the 5th of July, where a car was waiting for me to take me the about 90 minutes drive east to Karlovy Vary.
And arriving in Karlovy Vary, I realized I had almost forgotten that special festival atmosphere set against the backdrop of the uniquely scenic Czech spa town. There is an intense sense of history and culture in this place, and it truly comes alive during the ten days of the festival.
Checking into a hotel with a name I can’t even begin to pronounce, I was happy to find it a bit away from the city’s main thoroughfare. My stay last year taught me that trying to sleep at a hotel down by the river when there is a festival going on is next to impossible. And I would need a lot of sleep during my stay, as we will soon see.
And despite the festival atmosphere, the first thing that struck me when I started attending the festival was, like last year, how much of a fish-out-of-water I felt. I was here, at least on paper, for Norway’s largest film and cinema magazine, inventively called Filmmagasinet, for which I run the website and sometimes contribute with interviews, articles and film reviews. But my real “baby” is, of course, FilmLore (the website you’re reading this on), with its focus on fantasy, science fiction and fandom – of which there were practically none to be found in Karlovy Vary. A fish-out-of-water indeed.
Trying my best to set aside the grief I carried with me from home, I engaged with the festival the best I could. And to be sure, the atmosphere of Karlovy Vary in “festival mode” is something to behold. People come here from all over the world, be they filmmakers, journalists, fans, celebrities and stars. Last year, guests of honor included Johnny Depp, Ethan Hawke and the venerable Sir Michael Caine. This year, it was Benicio del Toro and Geoffrey Rush, one of my favorite actors whom I had the great honor of meeting.
The highlight of my stay was the KVIFF Talk with Geoffrey Rush. I have always had the deepest respect for the 71-year-old Australian actor, and listening to him talking about his career from the first row was truly special. From his work in Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Quills (2000) to the excellent Pirates of the Caribbean series (2003-2017), Geoffrey Rush has a long and varied career behind him. I am myself a big fan of his role as the cursed pirate Captain Barbossa in the Pirates of the Caribbean, but having grown up with a speech-impediment myself, the one that has inspired me the most is the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue in The King’s Speech (2010), of which he was nominated for an Academy Award.
Although liking the script, which someone delivered to him at his front door in a brown paper package, he was hesitant that it would work for the general movie audience.
Says Geoffrey Rush when introducing The King’s Speech at the festival:
Coling Firth and I were worried that it wouldn’t be attractive for the audience to watch long, chatty scenes with two middle-aged me, one of whom stutters and the other is Australian.
-Geoffrey Rush at the 56th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
As a journalist at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, I was well taken care of. There is always something to do, movies to watch and parties to go to. However, halfway into the festival, after meeting Geoffrey Rush and watching Benicio del Toro introduce Traffic (2000), I began to feel tired and lost all appetite. It was Covid. Of course, it was. After three years and three vaccines, the infection had finally hit me too.
Well, there was nothing for it. I got some supplies and spent the last two days in my hotel room. The closing ceremony I wanted to go to? Nope. The after-party at the Grandhotel Pupp, where such films as Casino Royale had been filmed? Guess not (although I was there last year, and it was crazy). That film I wanted to review for the Norwegian film magazine, Filmmagasinet? Too bad.
So there ended my trip to Karlovy Vary, sweating, tired and alone in a small hotel room, like some scene out of Apocalypse Now.
I’m sure I’ll be back at some point, for one reason or another, if invited. But in this beautiful city, with its amazing festival atmosphere, I will always feel like a fish out of water.