East of the Best: Hungarian Successes in Karlovy Vary

Hungary has always been a welcome guest at the Karlovy Vary festival, since the beginning of the 1950s. Crystal Globes have been awarded for best film, best director and lifetime achievement, film students and first-feature directors have premiered their latest work here, and legends in the business have taken part in the jury process, year after year. Let’s take a look at the most important awards and achievements earned by Hungary, during the history of Karlovy Vary festival.

words by Janka Pozsonyi

Károly Makk

Károly Makk

Even though the historical and political situation of Eastern- Europe in the 1950’s was complex and complicated, Hungary began its most critical year of 1956 with a double win at the festival: László Ranódy’s Discord (Szakadék) and Félix Máriássy’s A Half Pint of Beer (Egy pikoló világos) shared the jury’s Grand Prix. Hungary had to wait almost 40 years for its next big achievement. With the change in regime, the festival’s revival in the 1990’s brought attention back to the country once more. In 1996, Péter Gothár won the Best Director Award for his satirical comedy Letgohand Vászka (Hagyjállógva Vászka). The millennium started with the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Károly Makk, the legendary director of Love (Szerelem),  Another Way (Egymásra nézve) and Catsplay (Macskajáték). In addition to the award, he also premiered his feature  The Gambler, while the festival paid its respects with a retrospective screening of his most prestigious films.

Freefall by György Pálfi

Freefall by György Pálfi

In 2001, Ibolya Fekete received the Best Director Award for her multinational war film, Chico. This German-Croatian-Chilean- Hungarian film is set in the hard times of Communism, with an idealistic main character who becomes slowly disillusioned with his beloved regime. The director returned to the festival the following year as a jury member in the official competition and was followed by two more prominent Hungarians as jury members in subsequent years. In 2008, the world-famous cinematographer Zsigmond Vilmos accepted the honour of being a member of the jury, while the Academy Award winning director István Szabó (Mephisto, 1982) became head of the official jury in 2011. Szabó’s film Taking Sides was also selected into the festival’s programme in 2001 in the Horizons section.

The Wednesday Child by Lili Horváth

The Wednesday Child by Lili Horváth

In recent years, many directors have had the opportunity to present their first or second feature films in the festival’s East of the West section. Bence Fliegauf’s second feature film Dealer, Nimród Antal’s debut Control (Kontroll), Áron Mátyássy’s Lost Times (Utolsó idők), Virág Zomborácz‘s Afterlife (Utóélet), and Gábor Reisz’s For Some Inexplicable Reason (VAN Valami furcsa és megmagyarázhatatlan) also had the chance to shine in this selection. Róbert Lakatos’s debut film Bahrtalo! (Bahrtalo! Jó szerencsét!) was awarded the Europa Cinemas Label Prize in 2008, and last year Lili Horváth’s first feature The Wednesday Child (Szerdai gyerek) was awarded the Grand Prix of the East of the West selection, in addition to the FEDEORA award.

There is a saying that some festivals have their favourite Hungarian directors: Kornél Mundruczó is a regular at Cannes, while Bence Fliegauf is Berlinale’s favourite. At Karlovy Vary, the mix of films is always special and colourful. The festival organizers assemble all kinds of genres and are open to the styles and voices of many both new and experienced directors: artistic ones like Béla Tarr, Kornél Mundruczó, Bence Fliegauf and György Pálfi, and experimentals like Gyula Nemes. Moreover, they are always inviting directors who are open to combining genres, like Nimród Antal, Attila Gigor, Szabolcs Hajdu and this year – Attila Till.

The Notebook by János Szász

The Notebook by János Szász

In recent years, Hungary has returned from the festival having won some of the most important awards. János Szász’s The Notebook (A nagy füzet), the first film funded by the HNFF – Hungarian National Film Fund, won the Crystal Globe for Best Film, and continued its way to the Toronto Film Festival, and even got short listed for the Oscars the following February. In 2014, György Pálfi, director of Taxidermia, received three prestigious awards for his feature  Free Fall (Szabadesés) including Best Director and Special Prize of the Jury, as well as the Europa Cinemas Label award. Looking back upon the successful path Hungary has taken at Karlovy Vary over the last decades, Attila Till’s Kills on Wheels, opening the East of the West section, and Szabolcs Hajdu’s It’s Not the Time of My Life in the Official Competition, are both in line for a fresh set of awards.



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