By Stuart Hynson Culpepper | August 2, 2000

The Karlovy Vary Film Festival wrapped on July 15th. Set in the picturesque spa town that it draws its name from, it’s main base, the Hotel Thermal, is the site of the single largest festival experience I’ve seen. Thousands and thousands of people are issued accreditations. Hundreds of filmmakers, distributors and media crowd the café’s looking for a decent cup of coffee somewhere in town, (there isn’t any), so most often they settle for one of the local beers, (the Czechs make the world’s best beer, even German’s say so). The whole town is overrun with film lovers from all over Europe there to see one of the most impressive line-ups of world cinema anywhere. Good jazz plays everywhere, from stereos and live bands. Internet café’s were jammed with people corresponding with news services, company’s and friends at home. Everywhere, students from Prague with backpacks roamed the streets, looking for a flop and a cigarette in-between screenings, they lent an atmosphere and hip excitement that felt more like a rock concert than one of the four largest international festivals in Europe.
The symbol of the event is a big crystal ball held aloft by a golden statuette of a naked woman with large breasts. Silk inflatable versions of them floated all around the Hotel Thermal, the center of festivities, and at the opening ceremonies they had seven or eight real-live naked women with big breasts do this dance presentation with big clear Plexiglas globes. Lou Seitchik, who plays one of the leads in my film said, “I think if the women had been less naked or less beautiful I would have noticed that the choreography was really bad.”
A really slick trailer of these naked women precedes every single film screening. The juxtaposition in the Forum of Independents, the section for Indies from around the world, was almost always comical. Big glitzy trailer, shot in CinemaScope, followed by some really cool but funky film shot on 16mm.
The first big party took place at The Hotel Imperial. A freaking mansion fit for kings and some have stayed there, no doubt. Famous European stars wandered in and out of the herd. I had no clue who they were, but you could feel the vibe. The next day I saw a lot of their pictures in the daily coverage Premiere Magazine was doing for the festival. Some of it was really funny. You know how they say people go to parties to pose? Well I saw people, dressed to the nines, leaning against walls, literally posing. Wouldn’t talk to anyone, they just smoked. One of the women at the party was a nine foot tall, (I swear to God), blonde with a Marilyn Monroe body squeezed into a black lace tube. She looked like a product of the old, Soviet Olympic genetic engineering program if it had been applied to movie stars. Maybe she was. Who knows? This place was sealed off to the west for so long that it has an unmistakably foreign feel.
But hey, it’s another culture and I’m not being xenophobic; if you want me to get xenophobic ask me about France. I love the Czech Republic and it’s people. It’s a culture rich in a history of art, poetry and intellectual discourse. Not at all like France.
The town of Karlovy Vary itself is, like the capital Prague, extremely beautiful. The architecture is stunning and stately buildings of infinite detail tower down the lane of this narrow mountain valley. In the middle is a gorgeous colonnade where the twelve magic waters of Karlovy Vary bubble up from the hot springs, bringing mysterious cures for all sorts of ailments to people who’ve pilgrimaged here for centuries to drink them. One of our colleagues, and actress and writer, Amanda, (here with the film “A Sign From God”), said fountain number seven was her favorite. Karin and I try it one afternoon. Tastes like…weird stuff. Karin said she liked it. I stuck to beer.
The rest of the parties were incredible. In addition to the industry parties at the Imperial Hotel and in the Spa buildings, they had a rave party every night in a real palace at the end of the main street. One night they had fire-eaters and aerialists. Each one had a strange mix of incredibly well dressed Czech film people and the hyper-casual dressed visitors from the West.
The atmosphere at the screenings was incredible. I talked to all the directors and actors here representing their films and they all said the same thing: all of our screenings were packed. I mean PACKED. At my second screening, Stephan, Hanna and I had to literally crawl over people sitting the full length of the isles to get down front for the Question & Answer session. In the Czech Republic they have no shortage of lovers of independent film, I’ll tell you. They also must have extremely lax fire codes, but you didn’t hear me say that.
But that’s what it’s like at Karlovy Vary, the atmosphere of a huge film festival infused with the energy and optimism of the rave generation. Where else in the world would people camp all night in the rain to see an independent film and then sit in the isle once inside? This is clearly one of the great world events. It has all the Film Threat qualifications: great parties, great films, huge press and the best audiences in the world.
And unlike other really large festivals, we never felt like small people lost in a big room. The programmer’s made us all feel at home. They bought us beer and helped us crash parties reserved for big-wigs. Now, would that happen at a major American festival? I doubt it. One of the Hudlin brothers said, “Cannes is for a******s, Karlovy Vary is for the films.” Right on.
[ Sketches of the class of American filmmakers attending the 35th annual Karlovy Vary Film Festival pictured: ] ^ [ Milton Moses Ginsberg ], the autuer responsible for the film “Coming Apart”. Milton is pictured standing here with his lovely wife Nina, a successful New York artist. Milton is a remarkable man. A contemporary of Cassavetes, he made his debut film, a dark and complex reflection on the decay of the sixties, thirty years ago. In it’s first release, it screened to audiences who were bitterly divided over its message and it’s content. It then disappeared until it’s recent revival by the Museum of Modern Art. Now several film festivals are programming it to show what independent cinema was when the movement was being born in the U.S. I saw the film when it screened in Munich and found it to be an incredibly gutsy, disturbing, funny and moving film about the dangers that lurk on the farthest edge of pleasure seeking and erotic indulgence.
[ Les Bernstien ], the director of Night Train, a “Touch Of Evil”-esque homage to Dali, Bunuel and Hitchcock. It has some of the, (and I am not exaggerating), most gruesome and inventive torture scenes ever put on film, as well as some of the most fabulous and elegant low-budget effects.
[ Bob Mills ], talented star of the Slamdance winning film, Good Housekeeping. A bitingly funny and dangerous look at White Trash America that gives new meaning to the term, Nuclear Family. Bob was our ambassador, our ringleader and our court jester. Without Bob, I don’t know that we would have bonded as a group as magically as we did. I recommend him as standard equipment for travelling abroad.
[ Caveh Zahedi ], star of “A Sign From God”, a very funny film about…Caveh. My mom was really worried about Amanda, Cave’s girlfriend, because she seemed so sweet (she was) and Cave seemed so…unusual (he is). Then she saw his movie, and laughed so hard she was about to pee her pants. So she turns to me and says, “I think he’s all right. What a funny film!” There’s this very funny scene where he plays a filmmaker pitching ideas and one of them is “Little Women”, the novel, verbatim, done with dwarves. Another is a story about how he was a sex addict and another is an idea for doing a documentary on him, Caveh where he says “…like the famous filmmaker kind of documentary, but it’ll be about me. So, it’s like, a parody. Because I’m not famous, get it? I’m like, a failure.” Then there’s this part about how he goes looking for God on mushrooms. My stomach muscles cramped I laughed so hard. Then, at the Q&A, Cave starts to talk about the genesis of the story and he leads off by saying, “Well, I was a sex addict…” Then my fiancée and I remember how Caveh said he was ambivalent about being here in Karlovy Vary because he was going to miss a convention of midgets in Minneapolis where he wanted to cast actors for a project… later I notice my mom talking to Amanda in a really paternal and concerned way.
[ Stefan Uhrik & Hana Cielova ], are the brave and wonderful programmers of “The Forum of Independents”
Also featured in the photograph is [ Lou Seitchik ], one of the talented leading actors in my film, “The Origin of Man”, as well as [ Kitty Culpepper ], the incredibly talented actress in my film who gets ovations at every screening and happens to be my mom, and Karin, my gorgeous wife to be and me, Stuart Hynson Culpepper.
Then there were these two guys who showed up late and missed a lot of the fun.
[ Ed Rathke ], director of The Dreamcatcher. At the press conference for Indies, Ed was a remarkably articulate, sensitive and intelligent speaker. He really made me want to see his film and I was disappointed I couldn’t before I had to leave to go back to the U.S.
[ David Gordon Green ], director of George Washington. He didn’t want to talk to any of us.
– Stuart Hynson Culpepper is the producer, editor, writer and director of The Origin of Man which got a four star review from Film Threat and his mom is really proud of that.

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