Film director Bart Freundlich and actress Julianne Moore

Czech Out the 54th Karlovy Vary Film Festival

The charming Bohemian spa town of Carlsbad hosted the 54th Karlovy Vary  Intentional Film Festival, from June 28th to July 6th. This is one of the oldest cinematic kermesse in the world and, has become Central and Eastern Europe’s leading film event. The KVIFF first held an international film competition in 1948, but the socio-political changes that took place after the Velvet Revolution in November 1989 pushed concerns about pushing it to the background. However, the program for 1990 was saved by the release of a collection of Czechoslovak films which had been locked up for years in a storage vault, along with the appearance of a variety of international guests such as Miloš Forman, Lindsay Anderson, Annette Bening and Robert De Niro. It was in 1994, with the 29th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival that a new approach began: actor Jiří Bartoška was invited to be the festival’s president, and Eva Zaoralová became program director in 1995. This artistic duo allowed the festival to grow in the illustrious hub it is today.

The 2019 edition began with a grand opening night, that featured acrobatic performances and was concluded by an outdoor concert with songs of The Beatles and fireworks. During the ceremony Oscar winner Julianne Moore received the Crystal Globe for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to the World and together with her husband, director Bart Freundlich, and her friend, actor Billy Crudup, she introduced the new film After the Wedding.

Other notorious Hollywood guests of this 54th edition included Casey Affleck, who presented the film he co-wrote, produced and starred in Light of My Life and Patricia Clarkson, introducing her film Learning to Drive, who received the Crystal Globe for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to the World.


A rich, diversified and refined variety of films selected by Artistic Director Karel Och were screened throughout the festival with a strong and equal participation, from the industry sector, the press and cinema-goers. Several were the Juries to decree their winners. 

The Grand Jury (Czech screenwriter and author Štěpán Hulík; Palestinian writer, director, and producer Annemarie Jacir; Ukrainian director, scriptwriter and producer Sergei Loznitsa; Greek actress Angeliki Papoulia; French film writer and festival organizer Charles Tesson) gave the Grand Prix to The Father Directed by Kristina Grozeva; the Special Jury Prize went to Lara Directed by Jan-Ole Gerster; the Best Director Award was given to Tim Mielants for the film Patrick; the Best Actress Award went to Corinna Harfouch for her role in the film Lara; the Best Actor Award went to Milan Ondrík for his role in the film Let There Be Light; there was also a Special Jury Mention to The August Virgin Directed by Jonás Trueba and to the promising new talent Antonia Giesen for her role in the film The Man of the Future Directed by Felipe Ríos.

The Main Jury for the section East of the West (Ukrainian producer, distributor, and festival organizer Denis Ivanov; Finnish film, theater, and opera director Juho Kuosmanen; Czech director and screenwriter Tomáš Pavlíček; Greek film sales company representative Ioanna Stais; Lithuanian producer working in TV and film for over 15 years Dagnė Vildžiūnaite), awarded The Bull Directed by Boris Akopov, and gave a Special Jury Prize to My Thoughts Are Silent Directed by Antonio Lukich.

The Documentary Film Jury (Austrian photographer and filmmaker Andreas Horvath; Swiss producer Aline Schmid; Argentinian filmmaker Gastón Solnicki) bestowed the prize to Immortal Directed by Ksenia Okhapkina, and there was also a Special Jury Prize bestowed to Confucian Dream Directed by Mijie Li.

The Non Statutory Juries also delivered accolades: the International Federation of Film Critics FIPRESCI (José Luis Losa García, Hugo Emmerzael, Ana Sturm) awarded The August Virgin Directed by Jonás Trueba, with the following motivation: “The award goes to a modest, unpretentious film skillfully opening a number of issues and tackling a range of emotions while maintaining an inspiringly positive worldview.


The Ecumenical Jury (Alyda Faber, Martin Horálek, Peter Sheehan) gave their prize to Lara Directed by Jan-Ole Gerster: “A well-acted and intelligently directed film of a depressed mother’s psychological humiliation of her composer- musician son. The interactions of mother and son dramatically and dynamically capture their alienation, and shows signs of movement toward positive resolution. There was also a commendation for Let There Be Light Directed by Marko Škop: “This film is structured around a mesh of wrong-doings that implicate a family, a traditional village community, and its cultural and religious practices. In a stimulating and arresting way, it compels the viewer to re-examine moral responsibilities in a context of complex entanglements of violence.

FEDEORA, the Federation of Film Critics of Europe and Mediterranean, formed by Maja Bogojevic, Pavlina Jeleva and myself (Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi), was dedicated to judging films running for the East of the West Competition and awarded Passed by Censor Directed by Serhat Karaaslan: “For the empathetic approach to the exploration of universal topics such as oppressive regimes and censorship, and for playing with the ambiguity of how obsessive creativity may impact social reality. There was also a FEDEORA Special Mention to Aga’s House Directed by Lendita Zeqiraj: “For the daring and nuanced filmmaking, conveying a complex and touching women’s story seen through a child’s eyes.”

The Europa Cinemas Label Jury (Denis Samardžić, Maarten Alexander, Carinzia Camilleri, Éva Demeter) awarded Scandinavian Silence Directed by Martti Helde: “The Europa Cinemas Label of the 54th Karlovy Vary Film Festival is awarded to a film by a young Estonian director who engages its audience through an exceptional cinematic journey. The story of a troubled sibling relationship unfolds via different variations of silence. The viewer is not only engaged throughout the story by impressive camera work and outstanding music but also by a pure cinematic approach, a powerful script and an original narrative. Therefore, the jury decided unanimously to award the Europa Cinemas Label to the film Scandinavian Silence by director Martti Helde, part of the East of the West Competition. We look forward to see this amazing film reach audiences all over Europe.

In parallel to the cinematic immersion, those traveling to Karlovy Vary could enjoy a variety of activities that distinguish this quaint and dainty town, like the following:

Mill Colonnade 

Walking past the Hotel Thermal, along the stream of the Teplá river, you will soon come to the Park Colonnade and come across the largest spa structure in town. The Mill Colonnade was built a few steps down the road, during the years 1871–1881 and is formed by five colonnades, where the walls are decorated with allegorical reliefs. Looking down from the roof are 12 statues, each representing one month of the year, and amongst the columns you will also find the orchestra stage, a Memorial dedicated to Josef Zítek, the architect of this structure, and a plaque with the “Ode to the Hot Spring” by Bohuslav Hasištejnský von Lobkowicz.

The Hot Spring

In the heart of the spa area, you will find the Hot Spring Fountain, that can spurt up to the height of 12 meters and in 1 minute can shoot up to 2.000 liters of thermal mineral water at the temperature of 72 °C and 5.000 liters of carbon dioxide. It is surrounded by the Hot Spring Colonnade, which was built in 1975. Inside the Esplanade Hall you can find five spring outputs, where you can select the hot spring water in the cup either in its natural temperature of 72 °C, or cooled. The old section of the thermal underground is open to the tours of Hot Spring Underground, where you will discover the process of petrifying small objects, through the stone coating of the hot mineral water. 


Thermal Baths 

The beginnings of Karlovy Vary Spa treatments go all the way to the 14th century. The first documented patient was Emperor Charles IV, who used the water from the hot spring to heal his wounds. The most significant and long-established medical spa in Karlovy Vary are the Elizabeth Baths (Alžbětiny Lázně)m that were completed and opened in June of 1906, named after the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, Elizabeth, informally called Sissi. This a chateau style building located in a park built in the French style, which has a charming alley and a fountain in the middle, and established itself during the so called ‘golden age of balneology,’ at beginning of the 20th century.

Spa Forests 

In addition to walks on colonnades and esplanades, your wanderings should include the enticing surroundings of the spa forests. All trails are well maintained and marked, and most of them are named after famous Karlovy Vary guests. During your walks you will surely come across several bowers, lodges and other small structures that were built to provide a rest, a shelter from rain. Some recommended sights include the Lookout of Charles IV, the Deer Leap (Jelení skok) and the Diana Observation Tower

Monuments and Memorials

While wandering around the Bohemian town, you will come across a variety of busts that tribute the distinguished guests that have glorified Karlovy Vary. My most cherished are the monument of one of the most famous Czech composers in the world, Antonín Dvořák and the memorial dedicated to German philosopher, political thinker and revolutionist Karl Marx. More headstones can be found all over Carlsbad, such as the ones that honor renowned Polish Romantic writer and poet, Adam Mickiewicz; the reputed Karlsbad spa physician, Dr. Gallus Ritter von Hochberger; world-renowned German poet, writer and playwright, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; Russian Tsar Peter the Great; Scottish peer, Lord James Ogilvy, Earl of Findlater; Czech composer Bedřich Smetana; German poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller; first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin; German composer Ludwig van Beethoven; the first President of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk; the granite column erected in 1852 in honor of King Otto I of Greece; the Column of Grateful Hungarians built as a symbol of gratitude of Hungarian patients; Therese’s Obelisk, that was erected in memory of the visit of Duchess Marie Therese Charlotte d’Angouléme to the spa in 1833; the Statue of Hygeia, the Greek goddess of health and hygiene; the Baroque statue of the founder of Karlovy Vary, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Charles IV.