Local Hungarian Films Attract National Support

The Hungarian National Film Fund was set up in 2011 and since then there have been increasing signs that the local business is strengthening.

Laszlo Nemes’ foreign-language film Oscar win for Holocaust drama “Son of Saul” last year was a high point, but several other major prizes have come Hungary’s way, such as Berlin’s Golden Bear win for Ildiko Enyedi’s love story “On Body and Soul,” which is the country’s submission for the foreign-language Oscar this year.

One strength of the local industry is the variety of movies being produced, encompassing genre films, including crime thrillers such Eva Gardos’ “Budapest Noir,” romantic dramas like Gabor Herendi’s “Kincsem” and animated features like “The Legend of King Solomon.”

“There’s no typical type of production we have been encouraging,” says Andy Vajna, Hungary’s film commissioner. “We are encouraging everybody to use their best imagination and try to make contact with an audience.”

Script development has been a particular focus of the fund, which is led by Vajna and its CEO Agnes Havas. “Most scripts need a little tinkering so we work with the writer to lead them in the direction that we feel will either make it more acceptable as an art form or as an audience pleaser,” Vajna says.

The fund has around 35 projects in development at any one time, with six to eight moving into production a year, including one or two bigger-budget films.

“This could only have happened with the help of Andy Vajna,” says Havas. “He has the experience of the international marketplace and the American production enviroment.”

Winning awards is one goal, but so is increasing Hungarian cinema’s share of the local box office. So far this year local films have attracted around 1 million admissions; the ambition is to double that.

International co-productions are another priority. “We are supporting the producers to go out and look beyond our borders, because that gives their film a better exposure,” Vajna says. The fund also backs films from outside Hungary, such as Gyorgy Kristof’s Slovak-Czech-Hungarian pic “Out,” which played this year in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section.

The fund has also been working to lift new talent in the business. Its initiative to support first-time directors, the Incubator Program, moves five features a year into production with budgets of up to 200,000 euros ($236,000).

A training program has been launched that aims to give newcomers hands-on experience in craft roles and placement with a production at the end of training. Havas also sees a need to incorporate cinema into mainstream schooling. “We strongly believe in developing general education through moving images because it is the everyday tool of the kids these days — they use an iPhone like we use a knife and fork.”

The fund is also proud of its restoration work on old films such as Zoltan Fabri’s “Merry-Go-Round,” which played in Cannes Classics.

Hungarian filmmakers are making more adventurous, bigger-budget films, like “Kincsem” and “Sunset,” the follow-up film from “Son of Saul” director Laszlo Nemes. Both films had budgets of $10 million — a record amount for local movies.

The rising standard of Hungarian filmmaking has started to be recognized by Hollywood. Next year local director Kornel Mundruczo, whose previous films “White God” and “Jupiter’s Moon” were backed by the fund, will start production in Hungary on MGM’s “Deeper.” It’s being seen as a sign that local film talent is able to play at the highest level on the global stage.

Pioneer Stillking Films is proving production services on the film. “We are very proud of Kornel,” says Stillking’s Ildiko Kemeny.

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