Bohemia's Film Party

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Under a new director, the Karlovy Vary festival, the Czech Republic's post-Cannes, pre-Venice respite, will even have a fashion show.

The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival -- one of the most august, if slightly stuffy, events on the global cinema calendar -- is looking to freshen its image with bigger films, more stars and a touch of pret-a-porter.

Karel Och, who this year took over as the festival's artistic director following the 15-year reign of the renowned Eva Zaoralova, has promised "nothing revolutionary" and a "sense of continuity" in his first time at the helm. But the Czech fest, located in a sleepy spa town about 75 miles west of Prague and best known as a venue for uncovering foreign-language film gems, will be bookended by two very mainstream English-language productions. Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre, a new take on the Charlotte Bronte classic, is set to open the festival July 1. And Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Marion Cotillard, which opened Cannes this year, will close Karlovy Vary with a gala screening July 9.

Och gradually has been adding Hollywood flashes to Karlovy Vary since joining the festival as program director in 2001. His approach has been to mix A-list headline-grabbers -- see Jude Law's appearance at the fest last year -- with retrospectives of Hollywood classics such as his acclaimed tribute to directors Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell or the section on 1960s/'70s New Hollywood that Och introduced, which has become a Karlovy Vary highlight.

The touch of glamour has helped attract more media and younger cinemagoers to Karlovy Vary, something the fest needs to stay relevant.

This year, the star power comes courtesy of Oscar winner Judi Dench, who co-stars in Jane Eyre. In addition, Dench will receive the festival's highest honor, the Crystal Globe, for her outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema.

Also on Karlovy Vary's guest list is John Turturro, who will receive the President's Award, a lifetime achievement honor. Turturro and his actress wife, Katherine Borowitz, will present the world premiere of Michael Di Jiacomo's Somewhere Tonight, in which they star as couple who meets via a phone-sex hotline. The drama was inspired by the 1995 U.S. release 06 (1-900), from the late Dutch director Theo van Gogh.

The most surprising red-carpet attendee will be two-time Oscar nominee John Malkovich. The star of Dangerous Liaisons and Burn After Reading, who received a Crystal Globe in 2009, is coming to this year's event not as an actor but as a designer. Malkovich will unveil the latest in "nontraditional men's clothing" for his Technobohemian fashion line, and some of the top actors in the Czech Republic will don his creations and strut their stuff at a festival fashion show.

The actor says his collection "updates the image of the bohemian," a term that used to refer to the region now called the Czech Republic and which came to represent the iconoclastic lifestyle of European artists in the 19th century.

The fashion show is a new twist for the Czech festival, but for the official competition lineup, Och has gone for a more traditional mix of European and U.S. art house titles.

Oscar-winning Hungarian director Istvan Szabo is president of this year's jury, which will choose the Grand Prix winner (whose producer and director share a $30,000 cash prize) from among 12 films. Six are world premieres: the Roma drama Gypsy, from Slovak director Martin Sulik; the Canadian drama Romeo Eleven, from helmer Ivan Grbovic; Crack in the Shell, from Germany's Christian Schwochow; Danish director Birgitte Staermose's drama Room 304; Heritage, from Polish helmer Andrzej Baranski; and Collaborator, from U.S. actor-director Martin Donovan.

A bit of Och's personal touch can be seen in this year's retrospectives, which include tributes to Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve and the late indie legend Samuel Fuller. Villeneuve will attend Karlovy Vary for his retrospective: a screening of all his films, including this year's foreign-language Oscar nominee Incendies. The Fuller program will include 10 features, among them White Dog, the director's most controversial work, in which a woman tries to retrain a vicious dog that was raised to kill black people. Och will also screen eight new features from Greek directors, including another of this year's foreign-language Oscar nominees, Giorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth.

"I will keep on building on what makes KVIFF a truly distinctive event," Och says of this year's lineup. "A combination of modern and classic, the coexistence of new ways of storytelling with a fresh look on film history's crucial moments."         

Karlovy Vary International film festival
July 1-9
Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic
kviff.com

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