15th European Documentary Film Symposiums
Film d'Auteur.
European Documentary Film Symposium. 25 years
Erzsébet Bori Hungary
You can always trust the Hungarian documentary film  

You can always trust the Hungarian documentary film. Even when the carpet has been pulled out from under the feet of the feature film, when there isn’t enough money and when there is (although I would be unable to give you an example for the latter on the spur of the moment). It refuses to be shaken by the changes of political systems, governments or paradigms, it doesn’t have a right and a left side. I am sure there are right wing and left wing filmmakers but the documentary film itself is always on the side of the people. Even when it is not about losers, the poor or the unhappy. This is the only but very strict criterion of the genre.


Documentary filmmaking started to fight its quiet battle for freedom already in the early nineteen sixties, turning to its advantage that the closely controlled feature film has been pushed into the background as well as its relative cheapness and modest technological demands. During the years of dictatorship there was absolutely no question about the social role, ethos and responsibility the documentary film carried, its duty to hold up a picture of reality in opposition to the declared aims of Socialism and its rather extenuated self image, and to show the everyday life and problems of the people in a different, a real Hungary.


When Communism was abolished panic set in. Who will need revealing, truth telling documentary films when we already have a pluralist democracy representing all interests, a free press and a many coloured media? Since then over ten years have passed and those fears seem to have been unfounded. It turned out that neither journalism nor television reports can substitute the absorbing work, the thorough revelation of all facts even those hiding behind the surface phenomena, the empathy and solidarity expressed towards the social outcasts and losers and the personal credibility which are represented by the documentary film that takes its vocation seriously. And those who cross borders or try to expand the limits of certain genres, those who launch bold experiments of film language whose results have had a creative effect on feature film or have enriched and expanded the possibilities of documentary film with the tools of expression used by fiction haven’t even been mentioned yet. The four films on the programme belong to the latter category. In no sense do they represent the ramifying history of almost  five decades of the Hungarian documentary film, but Elegy which was made by Zolt?n Husz?rik in 1965 and has since become a classic, Safari made by two young filmmakers in 2001 and Ballroom Dancing made by L?via Gyarmathy in 2003 are all integral parts of this history. It is true for all four films that following the best traditions of documentary filmmaking they show another picture of the country contrary to the official one that is generally accepted and is full of clichés.


Zolt?n Husz?rik, the great innovator of film language turned to documentary film making when he was pushed out into the margin. His message was fundamentally personal, that of a real director’s film. The poetic vision of old horses who have become redundant, ready for the slaughterhouse, Elegy is the first piece of a series of short films directed by Husz?rik (Capriccio, Amerigo Tot, A Piacere, Homage to Old Ladies) which he made before, between or instead of feature films.

The renowned cameraman, Elemér Rag?lyi began his career on the borderline, with a documentary like feature film (How Long Does A Man Live?).  New Year’s Eve immerses the viewers into the deep waters of Budapest, the legendary parties of the city night life with its famous or infamous figures and women, at the time when social life was restricted to private apartments and almost the only spontaneous mass event was the pilgrimage to Blaha Lujza square, one of the centre points of Budapest, on New Year’s Eve.

Safari directed by Bogl?rka and Róbert Pölcz shows us the immediate present while creating the impression of an old-time folkloric and anthropological documentary film about the children of an exotic tribe that lives in the back of beyond. Indeed, it is this way of expression and presentation of the story that makes us realise how terrible the situation of the Gypsies actually is.

L?via Gyarmathy’s whole career has been under two constellations, documentary and feature film. She has created some masterpieces in both fields, so it does not come as a surprise that when her possibilities for feature film making narrowed down drastically, she created a new genre on the borderline between the two genres. Ballroom Dancing uses the film language she worked out in her film Our Stork which has won the European Film Award and provides a lyrically documentarist image about the every day life of a small community as well as their unique method of rising above it.

There is a living demand in Hungarian society to be made to face its own life in the cinema and on television. Its life which is hard and troublesome, but, in spite of all information trying to prove the contrary, it is not hopelessly dark, brutal and unbearable.


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