Istvan Szabo • Director
"With freedom come responsibilities"
We met with the veteran Hungarian filmmaker, who has won numerous awards throughout his career. The interview was carried out as part of the Dijon Film Meetings which Istvan Szabo attended as president of the FERA (Federation of European Film Directors).
Cineuropa: What role should the European Union play in the development of Eastern European film industries?
Istvan Szabo: We are witnessing an astonishing development, which is not only technological, but also historical and social. The European Union doesn’t just seek to create an information society, but rapidly expand it to include former Eastern Bloc countries. But although we can alter politics, identities are harder to change. If we tried to do this, we’d come up against resistance which could lead to dangerous reactions.
We must bear in mind the different mentalities of the peoples of the EU, for the citizens are very attached to their roots. European culture can only be imagined as the sum total of complex cultures. Investment in local culture is therefore fundamental and the EU must emphasise this point. For competition can only be fair and equitable if we are on the same playing field. Small countries and markets risk losing the opportunity to emerge culturally; they risk losing their identity and this may give rise to anti-European feelings.
What are your thoughts on European film circulation?
In Budapest, we used to be able to see UK, Polish, Russian and other films. Today, it’s almost a miracle to find such films and quality titles are ghettoised in arthouse theatres. The commercial film industry produces large numbers of titles aimed at fulfilling the needs of the international market. And arthouse works are far harder to sell. It is therefore essential not to let ourselves be governed by the market.
We must protect films, make them available, incorporate them into the education system and keep alive the cinematic memory of the 20th century. And it is absolutely vital to prevent the illegal downloading of film content on the Internet. The electronic media offer enormous possibilities, but they also involve significant responsibilities. FERA thus calls on the European Union to establish a high level of protection for copyright material.
Eastern European countries favour the rapid opening up of the markets, whose risks you warn against.
This tendency is the result of the unfortunate experiences these countries lived through during the previous century. But if they confront the current situation, I think they’ll follow other European countries, who know perfectly well what is at stake. Piracy must be combated. Freedom is fantastic, but not when it violates the freedom of others. With freedom come responsibilities and we must accept them.
Isn’t the main purpose of facilities in Hungary, such as the Korda Studios, to attract US productions?
There isn’t a lot of money in Hungary because the market is very small. When directors want to make films, they only have small budgets, so they don’t need studios. And we have some extremely talented directors, in particular Kornel Mundruczo and György Pálfy. On the other hand, local industry technicians need to work and the studios also help to continue the passing on of expertise. Without them, older Hungarian technicians wouldn’t be able to share their acquired skills with younger technicians. It’s true that these studios were built in order to attract US productions, but they also help safeguard knowledge about the film trade in Hungary.
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