The journalist Veronika Bednářová has been closely associated with the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival for many years. Her main job there is as editor-in-chief of the Festival Daily newspaper, but she also is well-known for moderating press conferences with some of the world’s biggest movie stars. When we sat down just before the 52nd edition got underway, I asked Bednářová when she had gone to Karlovy Vary for the first time.
“It was in the middle of the 1990s. I was a student at the Faculty of Philosophy, doing Theatre and Film Studies. And there was a little poster at the faculty just offering short, freelance work at the press department.
“So I was copying press releases and putting them together, because it was the time of Xerox.”
How did the festival then compare to today?
“It was pretty much the same vibe. It was just slightly slower and maybe there were not so many international film stars.
“But it was still an A category festival, so you could feel the importance of it, really.”
“I started to work for the Festival Daily in 1997, I believe, and then I left for the United States for three years.
“I came back in 2002 as editor-in-chief, which was pretty hectic at the time because I had to put together my own team.
“That’s really the most important and also the most challenging thing of my work, because if you work with great people – which I have the luck to do – then 90 percent of the work is done, really.”
Does your team change a lot? I see different faces every year.
“But pretty much the team is 80 percent the same. I tend to keep the good people as long as possible, because the experience helps a lot.”
You have interviewed a lot of major Hollywood stars at Vary. Which ones stand out in your memory?
“I think the first is always the most important, right? That was Klaus Maria Brandauer, back in, I don’t know, the mid-1990s.
“Because I was challenged by my English; I was worried I wouldn’t be able to communicate properly.
“And then it was definitely Robert Redford, in 2005. Because the secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who I admire, was also there.
“Robert Redford was like a role model for us and many independent filmmakers, so I really, really wanted to do a good job.
“So that was definitely a year I remember the most.”
What’s he like?
“He is extremely, surprisingly humble. And very interested in other people, which is not always the case with anybody really, not only with stars.
“He was very surprised that we knew all his old movies, which was again surprising for me, that he was surprised.
“He was just very warm. An extremely intelligent person who has the tendency to put people together, which he did with Sundance. And that’s why it’s great that Karlovy Vary has been collaborating with Sundance ever since.”
This no doubt also applies to some other work you do away from Karlovy Vary, but what are the dos and don’ts of interviewing or even interacting with these really big stars?
“It’s just like interviewing anybody else – you have to try and understand the person.
“Maybe there is one rule, but again it applies for everybody, and that is not to be scared of him or her.
“The moment they feel that you are intimidated, they kind of lose interest in talking to you.
“So maybe being slightly provoking is better than being shy and quiet.”
Everybody’s always interested in who the big stars are going to be and I’m sure many people ask you every year who’s going to be there. People always talk about it. From your perspective, what makes a good festival guest?
“For example, this year I interviewed James Newton Howard, the composer of scores for over 100 Hollywood movies, from Pretty Woman all the way to The Hunger Games and The Fantastic Beasts.
“And he told me, Many of my friends told me Karlovy Vary is such a magical place – I can’t wait.
“That’s a good guest. One who is curious to meet the audience members, to see the city, to see other movies.
“And that happens, fortunately, all the time.”
Is it common for the stars to interact with people? For example, I saw a lot of photos of John Travolta taking selfies, or having selfies taken rather, with a lot of people.
“Like Richard Gere, coming to see Pretty Woman, a 27-year-old film, and seeing 7,000 people waiting for two hours before the movie starts.
“I mean, what could be more exhilarating?”
When you speak to the guests about their impressions of the festival, what are they typically?
“Some of them are a bit hungover …”
That must be very common, right?
“It’s quite common [laughs] – it depends when you meet them.
“Some of them are extremely surprised at how loose the atmosphere is, because they are trained from other big, sort of business film festivals that they don’t really meet anybody apart from film professionals.
“They also like the beauty of the city. Because there is a certain Central European charm that is, I think, quite unique for Anglo-Saxon visitors.”
You mentioned earlier that you also moderate press conferences at Karlovy Vary. You tend to moderate the biggest ones. What do you do as the moderator if somebody asks a bad question, or a totally irrelevant question, or, which I have seen a few times, if they just start rambling and not making any point?
“If somebody is rambling, I just cut them off immediately, with no hesitation.
“Sometimes also a bad question has to be, you know, smashed off the table, pretending that it never happened.
“But you guys, the journalists from the festival, are so fantastic that I have to say it happens less and less, these crisis situations.”
You don’t have to name any names, but have there been guests who have been really rude, or really difficult, or really strange – anything like that?
“But based on my experience, if you kind of don’t let them be like that and, you know, push through with the welcoming arm of the city, they usually get better with a bit of alcohol.”
What kind of behaviour are we talking about here?
“Maybe being super critical, or saying, I only want this coffee, not that particular coffee, I only drink this water and not that water.
“But as I say, it virtually doesn’t happen. Or when it does, it’s great to explain to them that we are all just people, and they usually understand.”
“Absolutely not. I think being an actor means being quite pushy. Being there, being present, trying to charm all the time, to talk a lot.
“Even the non-talkative ones actually have their own inner charm. So they are very unique people.
“If anything, they are quite sensitive and you have to be careful not to scare them.
“Because sometimes one would believe, Oh, he’s such an international star, he must be sure of himself completely.
You must have thought about this. Is there a dream festival guest, somebody you would absolutely love to interview or even just be around?
“I have so many of them, all the time. I keep waiting for Jack Nicholson, every year, faithfully.
“I hope to see Meryl Streep, some day.
“I even have some political dreams, like I think Barack Obama could come now when he’s a bit less busy.
“I also have some up and coming Hollywood stars I’d like to meet.
“For me Aston Kutcher is an interesting guy, mainly because of his interest in modern technologies.
“I’d like to meet him and talk about Silicon Valley and what the coming thing is in modern technologies.
“I certainly wouldn’t mind interviewing George Clooney and his wife. So we’ll see if they come now with the twins.
What about directors? Are there any directors you’d love to see at Vary?
“Oh, yes, but we would be here forever. I mean Martin Scorsese – I keep waiting faithfully for him, maybe more than for Jack Nicholson.
“I have millions of questions for him. I would probably leave Martin Scorsese as the ultimate dream of all of us, I would say.”
If you could change one thing about the Karlovy Vary film festival, what would it be?
“The day would have 30 hours, instead of 24.”
That’s the only thing?
You’ve been associated with Vary now for over 20 years – what has the festival given you?
“There are people who maybe don’t have the time to meet throughout the year, or very rarely, and then we come there and we have to work for that one common thing. We have to work towards that.
“That’s actually very psychologically stimulating, I would say, because you work for that ultimate goal, which is to make a great year of the festival.
“And one day when I won’t be doing it any more – because I keep dreaming about going to movie theatres and seeing movies instead of working for the festival – I think I’ll miss it a lot.”