Stars Love Karlovy Vary Film Festival: Russell Crowe, Woody Harrelson 5

Even Hollywood’s biggest stars may sometimes need to get away from Tinseltown and all that talk about box office declines, streaming challenges, and the threats of TikTok and generative AI.

No surprise then that the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) has found passionate fans among the A-list with its offering of summer refreshment, like a cocktail of positivity away from all the negativity.

In fact, KVIFF has over the years often turned out not to only be a film fest, but also a big love fest for famous faces.

The late Oscar-winning Czech directing legend Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestAmadeusThe People vs. Larry Flynt) had made it his mission to promote KVIFF in Hollywood after its reboot in 1994 following the November 1989 Velvet Revolution that ended Communist rule in what was then Czechoslovakia country and the Czech Republic and Slovakia becoming independent states as of 1993.

“He’d pick up the phone and call his friends, like Michael Douglas, who he knew because Douglas produced One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Och told THR a few years ago. “He knew Douglas spent his summer vacations in Europe, so he asked if he’d visit the festival. He did the same for [The People vs. Larry Flint actors] Woody Harrelson and Edward Norton. Everyone had such respect for him, and trusted him, that they’d come.”

Harrelson actually became such a fan that he has been to KVIFF several times. After visits in 1999 and 2000 (when he introduced the marihuana history documentary Grass, which he narrated), he most recently returned in 2023 for a screening of basketball comedy Champions.

Among the many bold names to have attended KVIFF in recent years are the likes of Robert Pattinson, Taika Waititi, Uma Thurman, Casey Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Anna Paquin, Johnny Depp, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine.

This year, Viggo Mortensen was the first big name to arrive in Karlovy Vary for a special honor, but also to promote his feminist Western The Dead Don’t Hurt, which world premiered at Toronto, a bit more. The film opened KVIFF on Friday night after the star charmed the fest audience with some prepared Czech remarks. 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.”

KVIFF actually also gave Mortensen, and his co-star Solly McLeod, a few more opportunities to be celebrated and showcase the Western. Among them was a press conference with the duo, a screening that the two introduced, and a series of press roundtable interviews. In one of them, Mortensen emphasized the importance of respecting audiences.

KVIFF organizers know that respect for audiences but also stars is key to ensuring that everyone is having a blast at the Czech festival. Case in point: its success in getting stars to return to the fest.

Geoffrey Rush was honored with the KVIFF President’s Award in 2022 and is back this year as a member of the competition jury. “The big cinema at the Hotel Thermal is the mecca,” he told THR. “To see films on that scale and that dimension is great. And I love the fact that there are so many delegates [at the screenings]. You go, ‘Why is the audience half empty? Oh, they’re all up on stage because they’ve all come in support of their film.’ That’s exciting.”

Patricia Clarkson traveled to the Czech spa town in 2019 to receive its Crystal Globe lifetime achievement award. Last year, she returned to sit on the fest’s competition jury and introduce a screening of Monica, the drama also starring transgender actress Trace Lysette.

“I’m thinking of moving to Karlovy Vary so we can all hang out here together,” Clarkson told the audience of that screening after being welcomed back with a huge round of applause. Just before the Monica screening started, a moderator told the movie fans in attendance that it was Clarkson’s name day, which many countries in Europe and parts of the Americas celebrate on the day of the year associated with a person’s baptismal name. The reaction: the crowd in the auditorium showered the star with another huge round of applause.

“The theater was packed. I mean there was not a single empty seat in that theater at one o’clock in the afternoon,” Clarkson later told THR. “This festival is just near and dear to my heart. I love being in Karlovy Vary. I signed so many autographs, and I’ll sign a million more.”

Patricia Clarkson at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2023

Courtesy of Karlovy Vary Film Festival

Russell Crowe (L.A. Confidential, A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Poker Face) also enjoyed a summer of love at KVIFF 2023. At his appearances, he was regularly greeted with chants of “Maximus!,” the name of Crowe’s famous character in Gladiator. On the fest opening night, Crowe and his band performed an extended musical set, interspersed with anecdotes from the star about his film and music careers. Around 20 minutes past midnight, Crowe thanked Karlovy Vary and said farewell – but after loud cheers, the band ended up performing several more songs until 12:40 a.m. 

“I have to tell you the truth,” the star told the 2023 opening ceremony when he was honored with a Karlovy Vary lifetime achievement award. “I was unaware of this film festival until very recently.” Crowe then mentioned that “so many film festivals around the world … are completely disorganized,” complimenting the Karlovy Vary team for putting on a fest that “runs like clockwork.”

Alicia Vikander (Firebrand, A Royal Affair) also received a KVIFF honor last year, but shared that she had heard much positive about the fest. Colleagues and friends have said great things about the Karlovy Vary festival, she explained. Just like Crowe, she was rewarded with rousing applause.

Ewan McGregor also received an extended raucous Karlovy Vary welcome last year when he took to the stage to accept his lifetime honor on another night. The fest’s career highlights reel repeatedly drew laughs and cheers for scenes from the likes of the Star Wars universe, I Love You Phillip Morris, and Trainspotting.

“This is like a dream to see that,” a visibly emotional McGregor told the audience. “It was my dream as a little boy to become an actor. And that’s the thing of dreams, seeing that reel.”

In a sign of the all-around positive vibes, the Scottish star also scored points with some humor. He said that he was going to try a bit of Czech onstage but then decided against it after the reaction to his practicing Czech earlier. “Somebody called for an ambulance because they thought I was having a medical emergency,” he quipped to much laughter.

Last year’s KVIFF closing ceremony provided a bookend of sorts for Hollywood stars’ appreciation for the fest and the fest’s appreciation for the stars. Robin Wright (The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump, House of Cards) received the KVIFF President’s Award there, saying in her acceptance speech: “I would like to thank the whole festival team – this is indeed one of the best festivals I have attended. Thank you for supporting films.”

This year, when KVIFF unveiled Fingernails, starring Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed, as its closing film, director Christos Nikou said: “After being in the jury of Karlovy Vary Film Festival in 2021 and having the chance to present my first feature Apples to the Czech audience, I am so excited and grateful to return to a festival and a city that feel like home.”

Indeed, KVIFF organizers are focused on making the fest fun for film fans, directors and celebrities alike. “There is this group of people that we admire, and we are in communication with their agents, managers, publicists, and they know about us,” KVIFF artistic director Karel Och explained to THR. “Often they are not available because they are working in the summer. But once they get available, they like to come because they know they will be taken care of, there’s a good audience that expresses how they feel about them, and it’s relaxing.”

Concluded Och: “We want them to feel that they did not lose the value of the free time they have in between work, so we try to make it as nice as possible for them.”

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