Karlovy Vary Provides Czech and Slovak Films With a Springboard Into World Market

Opening night premiere honors at Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival this year go to Special Screenings film “Zatopek,” David Ondricek’s stirring drama chronicling the remarkable life of four-time Olympic gold-winning runner Emil Zatopek. The choice is fitting after a marathon year of challenges for local filmmakers, who, like the supremely focused and resourceful Czech athlete, have now crossed the finish line with 14 works that offer a rich sampling of ideas and insights.

Not every edition of KVIFF offers such a varied array of Czech and Slovak work, but this year is different, partly due to the scaling down of the international offerings caused by challenges in staging the fest during the pandemic. That provides a rare window for local filmmakers, as doc maker Erika Hnikova observes. “Every Single Minute,” her account of a Slovak couple raising their son according to the demanding strictures of the Kameveda developmental approach, makes history as one of the first nonfiction films in the KVIFF main Crystal Globe race. “I am really glad that the main competition in Karlovy Vary is now open also for documentary films,” says Hnikova. “It’s a great opportunity to show our films at an A-level festival — so many professionals from abroad can see them. So it gives our docu films a better position in the market — if they are good, of course!”

Another documentarian pioneering his world premiere through the main competition, Miro Remo, directed “At Full Throttle,” the nuanced chronicle of a 50-something former miner in eastern Moravia who has always dreamed of driving race cars. “Each time I was at KVIFF [this is his third competition] I felt a big opportunity to share my film with big audience,” Remo says. “This is for me important.” Broader reach is something rare for many local filmmakers, even in a non-pandemic year, he adds. “KVIFF has a good name — there is a better chance to go abroad with your latest work.”

That international exposure enables the filmmaker to reach out with his tale of social division. “I feel that our society is strongly divided by inequality of opportunity. We live in a world full of frustration and the future seems like it will not be better.” The film is about the power of taking on “the pressure of this frustration, now noticeable in capitalist countries. There is a ‘What next?’ question overall. How to make our world better?”

A third Czech film premiering in the Official Selection race, Olmo Omerzu’s “Bird Atlas,” follows up on the Prague-based Slovene director’s win at KVIFF in 2018 for “Winter Flies.” His new narrative follows an aging tech company proprietor (Miroslav Donutil) dealing with financial collapse, balancing his characters’ dignity against the need, occasionally, “to lose face in the eyes of others.” Omerzu’s previous directing award “opened the way to many world festivals,” he says.

The KVIFF trophy helped “Winter Flies” win attention at home too, taking six Czech Lion honors before being chosen as the Czech Republic’s Oscar submission. “For me, all these awards in a way meant the final anchoring in a country where I was not born,” says Omerzu. “The Czech Republic and Prague became my new home and an important place for my filmmaking.”

Omerzu is heartened to see the KVIFF main competition “enriched with documentaries, which have always represented a progressive direction of cinematography in the Czech Republic.”

“Saving One Who was Dead,” a Czech/Slovak/French family drama by Vaclav Kadrnka, is also in the main race, while local and Czech-international co-productions also fly their colors in Special Screenings and the East of the West regional competition.

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