Nation pleads poverty, so creatives step up

BUDAPEST — In show of defiance and solidarity, Hungarian filmmakers hosted the 43rd Hungarian Film Week on Feb. 3-5, using the nation’s premier festival to gather international support for Hungary’s struggling moviemaking industry.

Held in two cinemas in Budapest, this was the first time in memory the event was not directly backed by the Hungarian state.

According to Bela Tarr, president of the sponsoring Hungarian Filmmakers Assn, the fest was held to show the world “that Hungarian film is alive.”

Hungary’s troubled domestic cinema industry has languished amid the economic crisis in Hungary and Europe.

“Our budget for the festival was zero,” says Tarr, one of Hungary’s most notable film auteurs. “We had no state support. Everything was free. Everything was volunteer. It was a filmmakers’ event.”

The fest was also used as a platform for European filmmakers to lend support for their Hungarian brethren in a nation known for auteurs such as Alexander Korda, Istvan Szabo and Miklos Jancso.

On Feb. 3, the festival’s opening day, a slate of Europe’s top festival directors, including Dieter Kosslick (Berlin), Thierry Fremaux (Cannes) and Daniela Michel (Morelia), as well as Michel Reilhac, director of feature films at ARTE-France, and held a press conference to voice support for the autonomy of Hungarian film and the protection of the art of cinema.

The panel expressed opposition for recently passed film legislation in Hungary that changes the way public funds are allocated to domestic films, and the criteria for selection.

The drafting of the current law was overseen by Hungarian-born Hollywood producer Andrew G. Vajna, who told Variety shortly after the legislation’s passage his intention was to bring transparency to the state film funding process.

Europe’s fest directors criticized the new system for “a possible tendency to favor show business-like productions (i.e., commercial movies) while neglecting important segments of filmmaking (traditional art films.)”

Although Vajna told Variety he hoped Hungarian films would become more audience-friendly, the most recent projects to receive state funding through the fund appear to be traditional art projects, and include a movie to be directed by Film Week prize-winning director Janos Szasz as well as projects involving Hungarian auteurs Gabor Dettre and Karoly Ujj Meszaros.

Hungarian film may be struggling during these dire economic times, but the weekend fest revealed that the local audience is still behind it. Tarr announced that as many as 10,000 moviegoers attended the three days of screenings in Budapest’s Urania and Toldi cinemas.

In contrast with previous years, no competition was held for the 10 feature films screened, which included releases by Szabo (“The Door”), Peter Forgacs (“German Unity@Balaton”), and Sara Cserhalmi (‘Dear Betrayed Friend”).

(Ten is a low number for the fest and organizers say they scrambled to find and screen everything that was available. The 2009 edition had 18 features — the same number as in 2008 — and 31 shorts. This year’s edition also screened three children’s films, 50 documentaries, 30 animated films, nine scientific docs, and 13 shorts.

“Every showing was sold out,” Tarr says. “I think our guests had a good feeling.”

Despite these warm sentiments, the decision of the filmmakers’ association to hold the Film Week during the fest’s traditional pre-Berlin fest slot in early February may spark a fest war in Hungary.

In 2011, the government sponsored a Film Week in May just days before the opening of the Cannes film fest.

Tarr cautions that if the government opts to hold a festival next May, it cannot use the Film Week name without permission. “The owner of the copyright for the Film Week is our association,” Tarr says. “Only we have the rights to it.”

But Tarr added that no festivals are on the horizon in Hungary unless film production gears up soon. “If you want a national film week, one needs films,” Tarr says. “And to appear next year, the films need to be shot now. But now no one is shooting.”

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more