Tales from Suburban Bohemia: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
This post originally appeared on Stumpy Moose on 14 July, 2001, and was migrated to PraguePig.com on 24 November, 2018.
Karlovy Vary (or Carlsbad if you’re old), about 50 miles west of Prague, is one of Europe’s strangest towns: beautiful, slightly sinister, and home to Central Europe’s biggest film festival.
It got shabby during communism but not shabby enough to stop it becoming popular with Russians. The town is returning to its former glories quickly now and the Russians have kept on coming.
Boarding the Prague bus down to Karlovy Vary we thought that a pair of respectable-looking Russian ladies were sitting in our seats. Sorting out the mix-up I glanced down and noticed that one of the women had a handgun in her lap, in a carrying case. We took the seats in front.
The spa is also overrun by Germans in the summer months and there are increasing numbers of Arab tourists, which makes an exotic mix when the town is swamped by film buffs and Prague students at festival time.
Getting accommodation can be tricky. Last year we stayed at an ageing sanatorium called the Florencie. It wasn’t the smartest place and my girlfriend found ants in her breakfast one morning, but the rooms were very cheap and it was very close to the Pupp, KV’s fanciest hotel.
This year, however, although there was a new plaque outside noting that Ataturk, founder of Turkey, had once slept there, the Florencie was closed for renovation. It’ll reopen as a far more expensive place, no doubt, like the disturbingly named Hotel Eboli nearby.
Forced to hike back to the accommodation agency at the festival HQ, the Hotel Thermal, we bump into an American friend, TD Mike. He works as a stand-in when Hollywood movies shoot in the Czech Republic.
Mike told us he’d been thrown out of his wildly overpopulated hotel room at 10 am after staggering in at 6 following a night gatecrashing parties. It’s nice work if you can get it.
TD Mike was the first of three friends that we bumped into at Karlovy Vary. It’s a small world if you live in the Czech Republic.
The communist-era Thermal is a laughably ugly blight on the spa’s skyline but it’s a fine place to hold a film festival. We got accommodation there, and film tickets, and most of the screenings we went to were in one of the hotel’s four cinemas.
In the festival frenzy you almost never see the films you want to, and you usually just end up buying whatever tickets you can get your hands on.
This year’s films were another mixed bunch.
Apart from the wide range of films, there are other attractions to festival-going.
The director was present at a couple of screenings and took questions after the film. This is usually a faintly uncomfortable experience though. The questions are few and far between and usually pretty dumb, and you feel bad for the director who came all the way from Argentina or South Korea or wherever to face an embarrassing silence.
There’s also the promise of Hollywood-style glamour, but this is usually in short supply at Karlovy Vary. A few names do show up, and Woody Harrelson seems to turn up every year.
But the closest I got to a starstruck moment this year was seeing Joe Pantoliano flash by in an Official Car. It was all so quick I didn’t even get the chance to shout “I loved you in US Marshals”…
And my favourite film? Sam Raimi’s The Gift, Hollywood schlock of the finest order. I’m a shallow man…