FESTIVAL FILES Karlovy Vary, Venice and TIFF 2021
Three festivals for the price of one in my latest report from film events worldwide.
After a bit of a hiatus, here I am again with the newsletter, providing a summary of the last few weeks in terms of festival visits: three events for the price of one, as they happened one after the other, between August 20 and September 18 (with TIFF overlapping in part with Venice, as is usually the case).
Things kicked off with my very first trip to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF), which takes place in the city of the same name in the Czech Republic and is usually a late June/early July rendez-vous, with the August move this year being due to Cannes’ shift in dates. My girlfriend, who has been attending since 2017 and gets invited, was offered the chance to bring me along as her plus one, which turned into a proper press accreditation after they were told I’m also a journalist.
After the chaos of Cannes, Karlovy Vary was a monument to impeccable organization: theaters could be at full capacity, but all attendees had to wear a special wristband confirming they were fully vaccinated, recently recovered or tested negative. As such, the atmosphere was very relaxed even when screenings were sold out, which was often the case. In fact, that was the main pleasure of attending this festival: there was genuine curiosity from the audience vis-à-vis all kinds of films, be it the more arthouse offerings of the main competitions, the genre thrills of the Midnight Screenings or the vintage vibes of the retrospective.
The latter (which I covered here if anyone’s interested to read more about it), a tribute to Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, was an absolute joy to behold, as classics and obscure gems alike came together to create a program that perfectly embodied the mission of the Foundation: to preserve all kinds of cinema, regardless of genre or country of origin. All in all, a fabulous experience, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s edition.
Up next, Venice, which I’ve been attending since 2008 (although I had to skip 2013 due to my military service). This year, I was part of the FIPRESCI jury, specifically the sub-section judging the best first film across the Orizzonti and International Critics’ Week sections. On paper, it was going to be tons of fun. In practice, not so much: like last year, the festival’s venues were at 50% capacity, and you had to book your seats 72 hours before each screening (74 hours once the fest began).
Unlike last year, however, there were 4,500 additional accredited visitors, which resulted in all non-press screenings being sold out ridiculously fast. Juggling jury duties with additional journalistic assignments became a bit of a challenge in the first week (when more people were in attendance), to such an extent that for a couple of movies I was supposed to watch as a juror, I had to request links.
Fortunately, the Iranian horror film Zalava was not one of those: I got to enjoy it on a big screen, as did my fellow jury members, and it was our unanimous choice for the FIPRESCI prize (the competition group gave their award to Audrey Diwan’s Happening, which went on to win the Golden Lion). I was also able to have in-person encounters with fellow journalists I’ve previously only known virtually, which is another nice thing I always enjoy about festivals.
Now, per festival management, the booking system will remain in place even after the pandemic is over (presumably, next year will still have health measures in place, such as having your Covid certificate uploaded directly onto the badge, and hopefully theaters at full capacity). If that is indeed the case, one can only hope they will improve the timeframe within which to make the reservations: much as I loved watching Dune or The Hand of God or The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic, the viewings were partially soured by the notion that as soon as the credits started rolling I would have to whip out my phone and book another screening scheduled to take place in three days’ time.
Towards the end of Venice, I also started watching TIFF movies, owing to their digital platform that was set up for press, much like last year: save for certain titles that were restricted to in-person screenings at the rightsholders’ request, the entire official selection was readily available to those who couldn’t travel to Toronto, with new titles unlocked each day with a 48-hour window to watch them.
Except it wasn’t quite like last year: in 2020, excluding two movies that were not made available digitally at all, pretty much everything else was fair game, barring occasional restrictions in specific countries (Swiss press, for example, had no access to The Father and Falling, since both were playing at the Zurich Film Festival two weeks later). This year, a large chunk of the selection was limited to the US and/or Canada, including Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, which won the People’s Choice Award.
Given we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and the purpose of the digital platform was to make it easier for international press especially, such a move comes across as counterproductive: how are we supposed to properly cover the event if we can’t access the titles we’d actually get paid to write about? Granted, what was available was not at all devoid of interest (especially in the Midnight Madness strand), but I was not surprised when a friend of mine, who usually attends TIFF in person, told me he gave up on this year’s available program after 2-3 days.
And with that, I hope to get back to a more regular schedule, starting a few days from now with a few words about a man named Bond. James Bond…