Following the world premiere of “Six Weeks” at Sarajevo Film Festival, about a teenage mother who decides to give her child up for adoption, but still has some time to change her mind, director Noémi Veronika Szakonyi will continue to explore the subject in “Little Ones.” In the documentary, which she will produce, the focus will shift to the complicated workings of international adoption.
“We have been working on it for eight years now; we will shoot for four more,” she says. Her husband and frequent collaborator Máté Vincze will direct.
“I have a subconscious connection to this topic, which I realized only later. I have been shooting another documentary about my own family, about my mother, who was forced to give up fighting for her child. My brother. I am just interested in that question: how can you give up a child and survive?”
The Hungarian filmmaker already has a slew of new projects, including another documentary “Afterglow,” and “Bite Into the Soul,” set in New York, where she used to study and live with her husband, who will co-direct.
“It’s inspired by true events and characters, and it’s based on our research on the life and struggles of the Hungarian illegal immigrant community in Brooklyn,” she reveals to Variety, adding she will focus on an older age group this time.
“Our protagonist is Erzsébet, a 59-year-old illegal immigrant from the Hungarian countryside. She takes care of a rabbi’s elderly wife in Williamsburg.”
Szakonyi will also produce “Gross National Happiness,” and “Successful Man,” currently in post-production.
In “Six Weeks,” produced by Budapest-based company Sparks, she wanted to show that sometimes, waiting is the hardest part. As adoptive parents settle into their new routine, teenage Zsófi starts to have doubts.
“It’s a law that came into power in 2014. It’s tough, because when it comes to open adoption, all the parties already know each other. Our friends went through this and they told us they almost went mad,” she recalls.
“They finally had this child with them and they were so afraid that any minute a social worker would call, saying the birth mother had changed her mind. They said they packed all their stuff just in case, because they were ready to kidnap the child and run. In their mind, she was already theirs.”
Choosing a young mother as her protagonist was crucial, she says.
“Based on our research, their status is the most uncertain and hopeless during this process. They are vulnerable, they are alone, they are not receiving any real help. On top of that, our society often stigmatizes them without knowing or understanding what they are going through. They stay invisible due to shame,” adds Szakonyi.
Despite her documentary background, she quickly realized that the story — based on the experience of one biological mother they interviewed in the past — would be better served by a fictional retelling.
“We couldn’t do it — the presence of the camera would impact these people’s decisions. We couldn’t risk that. Also, we felt we wouldn’t be able to come close enough.”
“After the birth the hormones kick in and you start questioning everything. We conducted so many interviews with social workers and NGOs who help with these cases, and they said it’s also difficult for the children, who start trusting the people they are with. If this bond is suddenly broken, it can be traumatic,” she notes.
Szakonyi also co-produced “Her Mothers,” a well-received documentary about a lesbian couple deciding to adopt a child despite a difficult situation in the increasingly right-wing Hungary.
“Yes, it’s also about adoption,” she laughs. But its subject matter generated some controversy in her home country.
“One festival rejected it, claiming it wasn’t promoting Christian values. There was a bit of a fuss and I was afraid it could impact the decision about granting us the funding for ‘Six Weeks.’ Luckily, it wasn’t the case.” The film was supported by the National Film Institute.
“What I have learnt is that it’s not just about the blood [you share]. There are three mothers here: Zsófi, who gives birth, Emma, who becomes a mother by adopting her child, and Zsófi’s own mom. They are all different, but their heart is in the right place.”