The Magical Land of the Past

in 11th Jameson CineFest Miskolc International Film Festival

by Judit Anna Molnár

In one of the studios in Hollywood there was a sign at the entrance saying: “It’s not enough to be Hungarian to make films. One must also have talent.” Luckily this small country, this small town and this area had (and has) enough talented filmmakers. CineClassics, CineFest’s film history series, reminds us of this fact: the sidebar celebrated its 5th anniversary this year, run under the patronage of the Academy-Award-winning director István Szabó.

In the past few years we have had opportunities to encounter the early movies of Michael Curtiz (Kertész Mihály) and Alexander Korda (Korda Sándor), who started their careers in the Hungarian film studio in Kolozsvár; and the work of Zoltán Korda, the least-known member of the legendary Korda family. In 2009, there was a focus on Emeric Pressburger: the Oscar winner British-Hungarian scriptwriter and director was born in Miskolc. In 2011 the festival celebrated the 100th anniversary of István Szocs, the first Hungarian filmmaker to have international success; he won an award in Venice in 1942, and Vittorio De Sica, Cesare Zavattini and many others wrote about him with great appreciation, mentioning him among the forerunners of Neo-Realism. CineClassics remembered the 70-year-old film Casablanca (1942) and the Hungarian-born director of this grand film, Michael Curtiz, who died in 1962. The festival also remembered Adolf Zukor (Cukor Adolf), who was born in Ricse near Miskolc. At the age of 16 he went to America, where he established one of the world’s greatest film companies, Paramount Pictures. In 2013 CineClassics honoured the Academy Award winner, the Hungarian-born Alexander Trauner (Trauner Sándor) with a special screening and a conference. He was one of the most influential production designers, who worked with Luis Bunuel, Marcel Carné, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, and Luc Besson during his career that extended from the 1920s to the 1980s.

This year the organizers created a unique and exceptionally rich program again, which included screenings, master-classes, and book presentations. Vilmos Zsigmond, the Hungarian cinematographer, who emigrated from Hungary in 1956 to start his career in Hollywood, received a lifetime achievement award in Miskolc. Luckily, with his European sensitivity, he knocked on the American dream factory’s door at exactly the time when a new generation of directors launched a New Hollywood, following the track of the French New Wave. He shot with Robert Altman, Brian De Palma, Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen, and won an Oscar for Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, when he thanked his Hungarian professor György Illés and the Hungarian school of cinematography for his success. Zsigmond conducted a master-class in Miskolc. The audience of Jameson CineFest could visit another master-class delivered by Valis Oskarsdottir, one of the founding figures of the Dogme95. She edited the first Dogme film, the legendary The Celebration (Festen, dir. Thomas Vinterberg, 1998). In 2005 Oskarsdottir won the BAFTA Best Editor award for her work on Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and in 2008 she directed her first film, Country Wedding (Sveitabrúðkaup). Alfredo Mayo, the well known cinematographer of Pedro Almodovar’s films and head of the international jury in Miskolc, conducted a master-class as well.

There were two book presentations of publications about Hungarian film history. Sándor Sára, the famous Hungarian director and cinematographer, celebrated his 80th birthday. He was honoured not only by a book about his oeuvre, but also by a filmic portrait, where he remembered his life in his marvellous house near Lake Balaton. One of the first Hungarian film actresses, Klári Tolnay, would have been 100 years old this year, and a book was published in her memory. The legendary Hungarian film Dreamcar (Meseautó, 1934), in which she appeared in the role of Sari, was made near Miskolc at the Lilafüred Palace Hotel, and the audience had the honour of watching the movie at the fairytale-like location.

One of the most talented film directors, Orson Welles lived and worked in the last years of his life with Oja Kodar (born as Olga Pálinkás), who was of Croatian-Hungarian origin. The workshop of CineClassics focused on this Hungarian connection. The cooperation of Oja and the great master, who would be 100 years in 2014, led to the adaptation of Karen Blixen’s The Immortal Story (1968), starring Jeanne Moreau and Orson Welles, which the Hungarian audience could see for the first time in Miskolc. After the screening, film critic György Báron and Orson Welles’ first assistant director Olivier Gérard presented a workshop, which provided a good deal of interesting information about the shooting. Welles took even the smallest movies seriously, and he always knew how the composition would work best, although he never used a storyboard. Gérard talked about Welles never giving psychological instructions to the actors and actresses, whilst he would always talk about technical details. Gérard brought a relic to Miskolc: a letter from the hand of the great classic. Is there any other film festival in the world, where you can hold a letter by Orson Welles?

Edited by Birgit Beumers