Hungarian schoolteacher Gyongi Mago’s campaign to raise awareness of her hometown’s once-vibrant, now conspicuously absent Jewish population is captured in the superior docu “There Was Once … ” Having unearthed fresh facts about her small village of Kolocsa while completing her dissertation, Mago beckoned several survivors back to Kolocsa for a visit, including Gabor Kalman, the director of this well-crafted Holocaust-hindsight movie. Kalman’s pic definitely deserves TV exposure after its Sept. 23 bows in Gotham and Los Angeles.Kolocsa provides a perfect historical microcosm: Every building evokes the past, from the Palace of the Archbishop to the centrally located library (once a synagogue) to the houses on Tomori Street, designated as Kolocsa’s own little Jewish ghetto after Nazi occupation. “There Was Once…” ends up in the town square with a ceremonial unveiling of plaques commemorating the Jewish dead during WWII (replicas of weathered ones found in a neglected Jewish cemetery); the potentially disruptive, right-wing extremist rally transpiring just blocks away registers as just as eerily appropriate.
A Gabor Kalman, Cinema-Film co-production. Produced by Kalman, Gabor Garami. Directed by Gabor Kalman.
Camera (color, HD), Zsolt Toth, John Dunham; editors, Kate Amend, Susan Metzger; music, Mark So. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Sept. 20, 2011. Running time: 104 MIN.
Gyongi Mago, Gabor Kalman, Eva Toth, Thomas Kertesz, Torak Gusztav Andor. (Hungarian, English dialogue)