KVIFF 2015: Our festival highlights

Karlovy Vary is the festival scene’s best kept secret. The Czech festival may not enjoy the same cachet as Berlin, Locarno or even non-competitive festivals like London, but the consistently adventurous programming it’s celebrated for in addition to its rich retrospectives and extensive industry forums have cemented its position as Eastern Europe’s biggest cinematic event.

For its Golden Jubilee, running from 3-11 July, it has assembled a solid lineup combining the best of recent world cinema along with premieres from some of the most exciting new filmmakers from across the globe. Contrary to the norm, this year’s competition is dominated by fresh young talents, many of whom are delivering their debut features.

According to artistic director Karel Och, the average age of directors competing for the Crystal Globe award is 39. Topping that competition is German director Dietrich Brueggemann who made a big splash in the arthouse world last year with his Berlinale winner, Stations of the Cross. Deviating away from the formal austerity of his breakout hit; his new film, Heil, is an archaic satire targeting neo-Nazis, the media, and the European Union. Another Berlinale winner, Romanian director Florin Serban of If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle fame, unveils his long-awaited follow-up, Box; a love story between a talented 19-year-old boxer and an attractive thirtysomething mother and actress.

Joining Serban in competition is fellow Romanian Anca Damian, director of the 2011 award-winning animated documentary, Crulic: The Path to Beyond. Damian utilizes animation once again in her latest outing The Magic Mountain, a docudrama about the Polish mountaineer and photographer Adam J. Winkler who fought along with the Afghani mujahedin against the Russians in the 1980s.

Acclaimed Polish documentarian Marcin Koszalka presents her fiction narrative debut The Red Spider, a psychological thriller investigating a series of murders that occurred in the 1960s; Highly touted Italian filmmaker Ferdinando Cito Filomarino chronicles the last 10 years in the life of Italian poetess Antonia Pozzi in Antonia; Danish filmmaker Daniel Dencik tackles colonialism in the Guinea-set historical drama Gold Coast; French helmer Diego Ongaro charts the daily struggles of a Western Massachusetts logger in American verite drama Bob and the Trees. One of the most notable premieres this year showing outside competition is Kim Ki-duks Stop, a horrific tale tracing the impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster on a young married couple expecting a baby.

In the documentary competition, the increasingly prolific Mark Cousins pays an homage to his Irish hometown in the meditative essay I Am Belfast; Sister and Home Swiss filmmaker Ursula Meier charts the young life of a child actress growing in front of the camera in Kacey Mottet Klein, Birth of an Actor; Portuguese pair João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata (The Last Time I Saw Macao) turn their camera towards a deserted factory in a former Portuguese colony in China in IEC Long.

A trio of Sundance smashes are showcased in the various sections of the festival: Sean Baker’s crime comedy Tangerine (the first feature film shot entirely on iPhone); Ariel Kleiman’s cult study Partisan starring Vincent Cassel; and Leslye Headland’s sex comedy Sleeping with Other People starring Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie. In the Another View sidebar, Miguel Gomes’s six-hour opus Arabian Nights makes its East European premiere alongside Jeppe Rønde’s suicide drama Bridgend, Ciro Guerra’s Directors’ Fortnight winner Embrace of the Serpent and Micah Magee’s coming of age tale Petting Zoo.

Three retrospectives are featured in this year’s edition: a career-spanning celebration of the late great Ukrainian director Larisa Shepitko; tributes to American actors Chris Penn and John Cazale; and, most ambitious of the lot, a selection of post-Lebanese Civil War films that ranges from celebrated masterworks like Maroun Bagdadi’s Cannes Jury Prize winner Outside Life and Ziad Doueiri’s West Beirut to lesser known titles such as Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s A Perfect Day and Corine Shawi’s E meut.

In Six Close Encounters, the most intriguing strand of the copious side-bar programs, Karlovy Vary has invited six filmmakers sharing history with the fest to present one of their favorite films. My Joy and Into the Fog Ukranian director Sergei Loznitsa picks Kira Muratova’s The Asthenic Syndrome; Japanese cult maverick Sion Sono (Love Exposure, Himizu) shows Chris Noonan’s Babe; while Belgian filmmaker Michaël R.Roskam (Bullhead, The Drop) presents Jules Dassin’s Rififi. The 50th instalment of the festival kicks off on Friday 3 July with Oren Moverman’s homeless drama Time Out of Mind starring Richard Gere who will receive the honorary Crystal Globe award.

The Karlovy Vary Film Festival takes place from 3-11 July 2015 in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. For more of our coverage, follow this link.

Joseph Fahim