Eva Zaoralová, former artistic director of the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, dies at 89

Eva Zaoralova, Karlovy Vary International Airport. The Film Festival’s artistic adviser and artistic director for many years has died, the festival confirmed on Friday. Zaoralova was 89 years old.

Created in 1946, Karlovy Vary is one of the oldest film festivals in the world and one of the most prestigious, considered the premier festival in Central and Eastern Europe. But by 1994, when a new team led by film journalist Zaoralová and actor Jiří Bartoška stepped in as artistic director and festival president, respectively, his fortunes had declined, after decades of political interference from the former communist regime. They tirelessly transformed the stagnant festival into an event worthy of international attention. In 2010, Zaoralová stepped down as artistic director, with Karel Och taking over, and she has been the festival’s artistic advisor ever since.

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The festival presents some 200 new films each year, more than a third of which are world or European premieres, and its prize, the Crystal Globe, is highly prized. Festival guests included actors Robert Redford, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, John Malkovich, Harvey Keitel, Morgan Freeman, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Susan Sarandon, John Travolta, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere and Willem Dafoe, as well as directors William Friedkin, Stephen Frears, Oliver Stone and Franco Zeffirelli.

The festival attracts around 700 journalists, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe, and 13,000 spectators, with 140,000 tickets sold.

Its industry section, Eastern Promises, which seeks to discover promising filmmakers from Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East, attracts more than 1,300 distributors, sales agents, producers and festival programmers to the festival.

In 2010, the President of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus, awarded him the Medal of Merit for his work in the field of culture. She and Jiří Bartoška received a Czech Lion for their extraordinary contribution to Czech cinema. The French government made her Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and in 2012 she was elevated to the rank of Officer. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Cannes Film Festival, she was presented with a plaque recognizing her for her many years of journalistic activities. She also received the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, as well as numerous other awards and honours.

In 2020, Zaoralová received the award from the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic for his contribution to the field of cinema and audiovisual. The prestigious prize was awarded to Zaoralová for her many years as artistic director of the festival and for her lifelong promotion of Czech films and filmmakers abroad. Health reasons prevented Zaoralová from accepting the award in person, so it was received on his behalf by Och.

Bartoška commented at the time: “Since we took over the Karlovy Vary festival, Eva and I have been through so much, and it’s hard to think of a few moments to remember. In the beginning, we were both enthusiastic amateurs who approached everything with an open heart but without any practical experience. We found ourselves in unpleasant situations and learned as we went. After working together for more than a quarter of a century, I think it’s safe to say that we have succeeded in building KVIFF into a respected brand. And even if today’s programming team is made up of her successors, to whom she passed on her experience, Eva remains an inseparable part of this team, her face. Without her, the Karlovy Vary festival would never have become what it is today.

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