Jiří Bartoška: “It isn’t good to be successful”

For eleven years he has been president of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival – an official during the day and an actor in the evening. In our interview he speaks of the complex task of balancing the interests of sponsors, the state, and art.

This year you are going through a critical period with the festival, since your biggest sponsors have abandoned you. Is this connected with the investigation by the Independent Inspection Authority (NKÚ), which discovered errors in the festival’s financing?
We struggle for funding every year, but this matter with the NKÚ has not helped. It was an error in form, and perhaps our own naiveté as well. According to the law it is necessary to call a tender for festival guests’ lodging if we want to draw state subsidies. We have been reproached for having spent CZK 35 million over the course of four festivals without calling a tender for the Thermal Hotel and the Grandhotel Pupp. Logically we couldn’t have done it otherwise – no other lodging facilities met our conditions. The Thermal Hotel is the only hotel with six screening halls and 200 rooms, and the Grandhotel Pupp is the only five-star hotel with 250 high-quality rooms and a large hall. But according to the letter of the law this was a mistake.

How do you explain the timing of this NKÚ investigation? Do you know what instigated it?
I really don’t know. There are always many allegations against us. I don’t know if someone set out to harm us. The festival has become attractive, and maybe I’ve had too much television exposure. Also, it’s certainly better to write about Bartoška misusing 35 million of state subsidies than about the state throwing away tens of billions on poor economic management. One thing is certain – in the Czech Republic it isn’t good to be successful. It always starts bothering someone. People get the feeling that they could easily take it over and profit from the success. And so they throw dirt at you. True, you can shrug it off, but the stain remains.

The festival will run from July 2nd to July 10th. How are you currently doing with regard to financing?
In the worst case we’d be short about eight million from the optimal amount of CZK 100 to 110 million, but even that is a variant that would allow us to arrange the festival in such a way that no one would notice it. Unlike developed Europe, where 60% of festival costs are covered by state subsidies, 20% by regional funds, and 20% by private sponsors, the situation is just the opposite here. Fortunately, this year the city of Karlovy Vary will give us CZK 10 million instead of CZK 5.5 million, and the state will contribute CZK 25 million instead of CZK 20 million.

Which sponsors have you lost besides Český Telecom and Eurotel?
We also lost Credit Suisse and Philip Morris. ČEZ will remain as the general partner, and Český Telecom and Eurotel will participate as official suppliers.

Do you think that Český Telecom is distancing itself because Gabriel Berdár is leading it instead of Bessel Kok?
It’s clear that each boss has his own marketing strategy. Mr. Berdár told us that Český Telecom is no longer interested in being associated with the festival. Why? I don’t know. Our meeting was very short, so we weren’t able to properly clarify it.

But you pay for politicians’ rooms with state money, and they shamelessly accept it. These subsidies always come out of taxpayers’ pockets.
Not that many politicians attend. But that happens everywhere. Go to the Salzburg Music Festival, and there are politicians from all around the world there. We need state funding, and by inviting politicians we show them the reach that the event has. It’s a great cultural, as well as a social event. You could say that we pay for the politicians’ lodging with money they give us, but we invite politicians according to protocol – the minister of foreign affairs, the president, the prime minister, the chairman of the senate, and then the people who decide – people from the budget committee, the education committee, and so on.

A life in numbers
1947 born on 24 March in Děčín
1972 graduated from JAMU (Janáček Academy of Performing Arts) in Brno and began an engagement at Divadlo na Provázku
1973 engagement at Činoherní studio in Ústí nad Labem
1976 member of Prague Municipal Theaters
1978-91 acted at Divadlo Na Zábradlí
1992 one of the founding members of Divadlo Bez zábradlí
1993 began organizing the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
1998 became the head of Film Servis, which organizes the festivals at Karlovy Vary
2000 received the Czech Lion award for his performance as a supporting actor in the film Všichni moji blízcí (All My Loved Ones)

But that doesn’t explain why you enable them to do this. Perhaps you feel some pressure, that if you didn’t put them up they might cut your subsidies?
Definitely not. They come for two days. They want to see people and be seen. You really can’t avoid it. Often at previous festivals the politicians were invited by our partners. There were objections that this could smack of corruption. Now we want to avoid any suspicion, and so we want to invite the politicians ourselves, rather than letting our partners do it.When you see how back-packers, who make up the bulk of festival attendees, faithfully stand in lines for tickets and sleep in hostels or tents, wouldn’t it be fair if the politicians paid their own way? Or do you want the festival to be nothing but a snobby affair for VIPs?
Quite the contrary. Sometimes our festival is called Woodstock East. Both worlds, that of the VIPs and that of the back-packers, usually blend together to create a symbiosis, and they don’t bother each other. This year our theme is precisely what we’re speaking of – it has three heroes: one back-packer, one dandy, and one VIP. There will be brief stories of these three typical visitors. I have the feeling that it suits our Hollywood stars that such shenanigans as are encountered elsewhere are missing at Karlovy Vary. For example, Woody Harrelson rode around the town on a bicycle, and Leonardo di Caprio walked around without anyone bothering him. Alan Alda, Michael Douglas, Nastasja Kinski – they were all pleasantly surprised at not being hysterically hounded by anyone. This stands in contrast to what they experience in other places. Karlovy Vary is very informal and accessible to all.

How much do individual festival items cost?
I can’t explain it in brief. The festival is put together by 11 people year-round, but starting in December this number rises, and in the end 800 to 900 people work at it. They have to be paid. Then we have to pay the projectionists, and for catering, lodging, and security. For celebrities we pay air fare, lodging, and every comfort. And last but not least there’s the equipment – we have to bring everything or rent it – screens, chairs, halls. It’s necessary to insure, add sound tracks, and provide subtitles for the films. It all costs a great deal, and the money simply evaporates.

So does the festival lose money?
Absolutely – it’s all ephemeral money that is spent without hope of return over ten days.

Your firm, Film Servis Karlovy Vary, which produces the festival, doesn’t do it for nothing. What is the profit on the entire event?
Like any other serious marketing firm we get ten percent – in our case of the gross revenues, not counting the state subsidies.

Many artists complain that they couldn’t survive without sponsors. It’s the same for you. What’s it like to be reduced to begging?
It’s horrible, because you often encounter people you ordinarily wouldn’t need to meet up with. But even though it’s necessary, it requires a certain degree of stylization.

In which year was the result the best for you?
Not only for us, but also for the festival, that was 2001.

Along with your work-load, are you also pursuing acting?
Yes. I am playing Salieri in Amadeus at Divadlo pod Palmovkou, at Divadlo v Řeznické I’m doing Ionesco’s Death of the King, and at the Dejvické divadlo A Tale of Ordinary Madness. So I act on twelve evenings a month, but I really love doing it – the theater rejuvenates me.

How would you describe yourself in a few words?
The laziest person, who behaves like a grind.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
An actor should die on the stage, so maybe in a theater.

How would you like people to remember you?
As a guy who acted well in the theater and helped with the Karlovy Vary festival.

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