Documentarydfgfdg Film. Riddles of Globalisation
14th INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FILM SYMPOSIUM REPORT 2001
proceedings of the International Documentary Film Symposium held on September 8 - 13, 2001 in Riga, Latvia





Hungarian Documentary Film - Does Anyone Need It?
Klara Muhi
Budapest
I can account for predominantly contradicting facts and aesthetic judgments about the contemporary Hungarian Documentary Film. First of all, the status of Hungarian Documentary Film is characterized by a state of 'being and non-being'. Many films are made - about 200 each year - mostly in independent workshops, and a lesser amount is produced by the two state television stations. However, for various
reasons only a few of the 200 films reach the audience.
In April 2001 few of us made an attempt to organize an independent documentary film festival in Budapest. The result was depressing. Four to five viewers attended each screening: those who participated in filmmaking. In follow up one of my colleagues wrote a farewell speech to Hungarian Documentary Film which appeared in one of the most prestigious film magazines. The author was burying not the genre but the viewer. The same viewer whose sensitive reactions to and active support for critical documentary film was apparent before the 1989 political changes. In 1988 the documentary about the first Miss Hungary Contest was viewed by over a million of Hungarians. Presently the audience is satisfied with television news and the commercial TV sensational documentary programs. At the same time we know that 'the viewer is always right'.
In consequence, alongside with Hungarian press we have to ask openly: what are Hungarian documentaries made in last 5-10 years really like? Well a lot of people believe that in comparison to TV documentary their style is slow, a little awkward and visually less pleasing. These accusations are true, for the sensational television documentaries are packed with action. However, the process of credible feeling of situations or persons needs time. If Flaerty had not waited with Nanook until the fox came out of its burrow, Nanook the Eskimo would not have been a classic of the documentary genre today. At the same time the majority of Hungarian documentary filmmakers follow the so-called Budapest school style what means that the protagonists of the films 'live' their situation in front of the camera rather than account for events.
In my view, the ability of the documentary film to show the prevailing contradictions and sacrifices made practically by all contemporary Hungarians towards the transition of the country to unimpeded capitalism is more important than the formal problems of the genre.
As far as the film topics are concerned, Hungarian documentary remains committed to the problems of the oppressed or undervaluated, the 'losers' of the contemporary Hungarian society: children, minorities, people with physical disabilities. To exemplify this I can mention the prize-winners of Hungarian Film Review this year. First of all, it's Adam Csillag's Stepparents which deals with the tragedy of a surrogate family. The jury highly praised Agota Varga's Porrajmos about Gypsy Holocaust in Hungary for the first time since 1945. Many films deal with dramatically deteriorating position of 800, 000 Gypsies in Hungary which is fueled by the acrimony of the Hungarian right wing press. Another group of documentary films is concerned about Hungarian teenagers whose parents are the losers of the political changes. These children are often emotionally neglected at the mercy of addictive powers of various electronic games. They seek their social context through television. Two prominent Hungarian documentary filmmakers dealt with this subject: the above mentioned Agota Varga and Tamas Almasi. Many films are made about homeless. Two years ago a significant film was made when the director handed over his camera to a homeless person. Other valuable moments were shown in the film by the most outstanding contemporary Hungarian fiction film director Andras Jeles, in which the author directed a theatrical play with homeless people. The film documented the rehearsal process and the only performance. The most moving work in recent years on the subject of the homeless was Andras Salamon's Jonuc which portrayed a one-legged orphan beggar-boy.
Hungarian documentary does not stop at the state border: there are many films made on the territory of Romania in the areas inhabited by Hungarians.
In this light I find it surprising that Hungarian documentary filmmakers pay no attention to those who are the beneficiaries of the 1980s political changes. Using a slight overstatement we can assume that contemporary Hungarian documentary film has not managed to say much about new capitalists, their wealth, and how the apparent union between politics and economics was created, what is behind the affairs of corruption. To put it briefly, what kind of battle did the losers exactly lose? Many people direct these questions to the contemporary filmmakers as the previous generation (I refer here to Gyula Gazdag) was known for being innovative in unmasking the power constructions of the Kadarian party administration. I am sure that this type of critical cinema would attract Hungarian audience. People are reluctant to face the deprived. As our well-known sociologist Gyorgy Csepeli remarked, the whole country feels bad about it. Property and wealth remain a subject of taboo. Any work which attempts to deal with this issue will have a huge public response in Hungary. However, the information blockade surrounds the subject of wealth in Hungary, while the methods the new rulers of the country use to protect their secrecy are even more refined than those of the communist era. Beyond this subject contemporary documentary films commonly deal with unbearable indifference and abandonment and almost complete lack of social solidarity.
A new trend in Hungarian documentary concerns the life of individuals out of their sociological context. The films portray highly individual and special people with unusual qualities. These characters happened to be captured by documentary filmmakers but they would prevail in fictional literature or film. One of such films, Janos Veszi’s Married to Prisoners, was shown at this Symposium. The film concerns the ancient subject of stormy love. The film protagonists hold disturbing secrets, their actions are irrational as in a Dostoyevsky novel, and we feel grateful to the authors that they show us some of these secrets. This type of documentary often uses the same news items as the sensational films but comes to a different conclusion. A sensational documentary will squeeze out of its protagonist every drop of drama, while a true documentary filmmaker will not violate its subject's dignity.
Finally I'd like to draw your attention to some other excellent Hungarian documentary filmmakers. Young filmmakers sparingly take part in producing the undervalued genre of documentary film. I'd like to single out the exceptionally talented Andrea Mako whose film Brothers Jano we saw at this Symposium. The film won the Critics' Prize last year. Another interesting young film director is Robert Kovessy whose films deal with Hungarian punks. Among the filmmakers of a more mature generation I'd like to mention Janos Zelki whose films conjure a Fellini-like atmosphere, Peter Forgacs who placed private films into a completely new context, Edit Koszegi who is concerned with the theme of Gypsies, and Livia Gyarmaty, the holder of the Europa Prize.
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