Viggo Mortensen, Oleh Sentsov, Aliens, Kosheen Open KVIFF 2024 5

Viggo Mortenson, jury member Geoffrey Rush and jury president and independent film veteran Christine Vachon were among the big names strutting down the red carpet on Friday evening for the gala opening ceremony of the 58th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) in the Czech Republic.

The black-tie opening event saw Mortensen collect the KVIFF President’s Award in the Czech spa town that will for the next week present what has come to be considered Central Europe’s biggest cinema celebration of the summer.

Mortensen charmed the fest audience with some prepared Czech remarks that drew much applause and appreciation. He then switched to English, calling KVIFF a “very important celebration of cinema that you have every year,” making him feel honored that the fest was recognizing “my work as a storyteller.”

Mortenson shared that The Dead Don’t Hurt was “a difficult movie to make,” adding that, “all movies are difficult to make. But I was lucky to count on an amazing group of actors.” He particularly lauded stars Vicky Krieps and Solly McLeod. He even brought the latter to the stage after quipping that he was at first wondering if the actor may be too young and have too strong a British accent. “When I saw him on Zoom, I was like, ‘Oh my God, he looks like he’s 16 years old. How’s this going to work?’ Because of the accent, Mortensen offered another chat a few weeks later, and by then McLeod’s accent was “almost perfect,” he shared. By the time the film was made, it was perfect, Mortensen concluded.

Of note, KVIFF’s popular Crystal Globe award statuette has a new size and weight this year. “After 24 years, the festival award from the Moser glassworks is changing in size,” organizers said just before the start of the fest. “The Globes have shed 1.8 kilograms in weight, are 7.5 centimeters shorter and the crystal ball is 2.4 centimeters smaller in diameter. The new statuette is 34.5 centimeters tall and weighs 2.6 kilograms.” 

The opening ceremony, as is tradition, included a much-applauded stage show, once again choreographed by Michal and Simon Cabani, that kicked off the proceedings with the duo’s trademark mix of action and fun. Its theme was this year’s 30th anniversary edition under the leadership of KVIFF president Jirí Bartoska and his team who reinvigorated the fest amid talk about its potential cancellation.

Czech words scrolling upwards on a screen in the style of Star Wars openings along with a voiceover described the dark clouds that had gathered over KVIFF after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The first edition of KVIFF under the new team was held in 1994, which the opening comments noted, was the same year Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, Friends premiered and Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or in Cannes.

A montage of 30 years of festival and Bartoska pictures with the likes of Michael Douglas, Jack Valenti, Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman, Robert Redford, Jude Law, Judy Dench, Oliver Stone, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Jeremy Renner, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush and more followed to much applause.

At the end, a group of dancers and performers, including a man with a chainsaw, a guy jumping on a trampoline, women dressed as show dancers and people dressed up as aliens, took over the stage to cheers. These were callbacks to some of the past opening shows over the last 30 years.

Bartoska expressed a love for black-and-white films and thanked his team and sponsors for their hard work and support. When brands that are KVIFF sponsors were called out a bit later, a message likely meant with a wink showed up on a screen: “Thanks for your money.”

Then, the audience was in for another treat. After all, the ceremony also featured the unveiling of the annual irreverent KVIFF trailer, which always stars a famous past KVIFF honoree. This year, Benicio del Toro is the leading man featured in the trailer.

The trailer earned rabid applause, as did Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov who is in town to world premiere his documentary Real from the trenches of the Ukraine war. Ceremony host Marek Eben referenced Sentsov’s time in a Russian prison, saying he “survived Putin’s gulag.” Sentsov then stood up in the audience to a huge ovation.

After the celebration of Mortensen, the elegantly dressed audience got to enjoy Mortensen’s feminist western The Dead Don’t Hurt, which he wrote and directed, as the opening film of KVIFF 58.

A free open-air performance by British electronic music band Kosheen just outside the main fest venue, the Hotel Thermal, was set to kick off at 10:45 p.m. local time to get the many enthusiastic film and music fans in attendance into the groove.

The Czech festival will also honor Daniel Brühl and Clive Owen with President’s Awards, host Steven Soderbergh, pay tribute to screenwriter and director Nicole Holofcener (Enough SaidYou Hurt My Feelings) and present a Franz Kafka retrospective.

Last year, Russell Crowe, Alicia Vikander and ice skaters helped kick off the film fest in style. The 2024 Karlovy Vary festival runs through July 6.

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