Indian curator, Meenakshi Shedde who is on the Grand  jury of Karlovy vary International film festival, one of the most prestigious film festivals being held close to Prague in Czech Republic writes about her perspective, her learning and her experience from the festival.

It is intoxicating to return to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, which I had first attended last year. Not many outside the film festival circuit have heard of this festival, which is about an hour from Prague in the Czech Republic–if the fancy Audi the festival sent for you has a cool driver purring along at 140kmph. But I’d say it’s in the top 10-15 festivals worldwide. And that’s a herculean achievement, considering every small town on the planet, including in India, has its own international film festival these days.

One of the reasons I love Karlovy Vary is I really love smaller cities and towns. They have a unique character that the big cities don’t have. And Karlovy Vary (German name Karlsbad) is mainly a hot springs and mineral water spa town—and all discreet old European aristocratic heritage.

The festival began right after World War II in 1946, and till today is considered one of the best showcases for films from central and eastern Europe. It stagnated for some years under the communist regime of former Czechoslovakia, but after the 1989 Velvet Revolution and independence from the Soviet Union, the festival was revived by Jiri Bartoska (now festival president) and Eva Zaoralova (artistic consultant of the festival), with Karel Och as festival director.

There’s something thrilling about being on the Grand Jury of the Karlovy Vary film festival, mainly for the opportunity to learn from great minds. We will judge films in the main Competition section of the 48th edition of the festival, that runs from June 28-July 6, 2013. My distinguished fellow jurors include Polish director-writer Agnieszka Holland, who earned three Oscar nominations for Angry Harvest,In Darkness and Europa, Europa; Frederic Boyer, artistic director of the Tribeca Film Festival, New York, and former director of the Cannes festival’s Directors’ Fortnight; and Peruvian director Claudia Llosa, whose film The Milk of Sorrow won the Berlin film festival’s Golden Bear.

We started off with a jury lunch with the festival director Karel Och, Eva Zaoralova and others, in the Grandhotel Pupp (pronounced poopp), a key festival venue. Opening film was Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo, with Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris. Based on Boris Vian’s cult novel Ecume des Jours (Foam of Days), it is a tragic love story in which the imagination and inventiveness of the director takes over the story telling. Not least of which is a pianocktail in which a piano, as you play the keys, is connected to various drinks that mix, and whip up a cocktail by the end of your performance!

There are a lot of films I’m going to watch out for. There are 14 films in competition—but I won’t even mention them here as we’ll be judging them, so I’ll do an Austin Powers and zip it. The overall festival selection is rather strong, and includes the Indian film Dabba(Lunchbox) by Ritesh Batra, an exquisite ode to love and longing that won the Audience Award in the Cannes´Critic’s Week. Films I hope to catch include Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) that was at Cannes, Agnieszka Holland’s The Burning Bush, a three-part almost four-hour long (231 mins) project for HBO Europe—part of the new trend of showing great TV films at film festivals, Heli by Amat Escalante who won Best Director at Cannes, Grigris by Mahamat Saleh Haroun (Chad), Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station(Grand Jury Prize at Sundance; Cannes), Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria (Silver Bear Best Actress for Paulina Garcia), Serge Avedikian and Olena Fetisova’s Paradjanov, and Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture (Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes).

John Travolta received the Crystal Globe for lifetime achievement here, and they’re showing a bunch of his films. He was welcomed by screaming fans when Greaseshowed at the Letni Kino (summer cinema), a wonderful open air amphitheater in the middle of the woods in the city, ringed by hills, where you can smell the trees.

Fascinating already are casual conversations with other jury members—for example Frederic Boyer, veteran of Cannes and now heading Tribeca, says, “When you have an art-house film that is really demanding on the audience, it makes it harder for everyone defending arthouse cinema, as it pushes the audience to see IronMan3.” There’s a thin red line there, and that’s a lesson for art-house directors to keep the audience at the back of your mind, even when pursuing artistic ambitions without compromising.