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Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

"Kooky"

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When the 45th edition of the Karlovy Vary Inter­national Film Festival kicks off in the popular Czech spa resort July 2, it will arrive at a time when many countries in Central and Eastern Europe continue to struggle with the global economic downturn. But artistic director Eva Zaoralova says this shouldn't impact the fest's programs.

"The 45th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival will not significantly differ from the past ones," she says. "As always, our aim is to present -- both in the competition sections and in all others -- a collection of the most interesting films made since last year's festival." She adds that since Karlovy Vary is a nonspecialized event, this year's fest isn't going to have a particular theme, the only selection criterion being the quality of films.

Traditionally, Karlovy Vary features the best recent Czech releases, and this year the festival's selection committee has had a high number of films to choose from since, according to Zaoralova, a record number of features and documentaries were made in the Czech Republic in 2009.

That's a clear sign that the country's industry is still going strong despite the challenges facing the region, even if elsewhere in the region film has struggled -- witness the fact that the fest's selection committee had trouble programming the competitive East of the West section, which focuses on films from the former Socialist Bloc countries.

Among the most notable Czech films in the official competition is the partly animated film "Kooky," a comeback of sorts from Jan Sverak, the director of "Kolya," which won the best foreign-language film Oscar in 1996. According to the festival's organizers, the film's visuals are as stunning in their own way as James Cameron's "Avatar."

Sverak will compete against another prominent Czech film in the official competition, "3 Seasons in Hell," the first feature by Tomas Masin, a commercial director. The movie chronicles the exploits of young poet in 1947 whose hedonistic lifestyle clashes with the threat of communist rule.

Elsewhere, this year's competition features several notable debuts, including "Mother Teresa of Cats," directed by well-known Polish dramatist Pawel Sala and based on his own work; and the French psychological thriller "Sweet Evil," directed by Olivier Coussemacq and starring Pascal Greggory.

Organizers are also touting a number of world premieres, among them the Spanish drama "The Mosquito Net" from Agusti Vila; Daniel Burmann's "Dos hermanos," a success in Argentina; and "Diago," a look at life in contemporary Macao from director Zhang Chi.

Despite these highlights, Zaoralova concedes that selecting movies for the East of the West section wasn't easy, thanks to the less-than-ideal state of the economy.

"During the selection process we saw that in some countries, (like) Russia for instance, the financial crisis was mirrored in the suspension of certain projects and constraints in production," Zaoralova says.

Nevertheless, organizers were able eventually to add 15 to the program, representing various post-Socialist countries, including such oft-overlooked regions as Estonia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Uzbekistan.