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Archive for December, 2011

Hungarian writers are widely respected within their own country, but the truth is that very few break out beyond these borders into world-wide fame (Ferenc Molnar comes to mind as an excption). One author who managed to achieve international recognition – and indeed – become part of the Western canon of literature, is Arthur Koestler (born Kösztler Artur in Budapest in the year 1905).  It would be nice to tout Koestler’s Hungarian upbringing as a huge influence on his body of work, but the writer, in his formative years, was educated mostly in Austria, and Germany. He spent much of his later life in Israel and Western Europe, and finally Great Britian, where he died in 1983.

Like most famous Hungarians, Koestler was adventurous and traveled widely, leaving his homeland behind early on. Just months before graduating from technical university, Koestler burned his school records, grades, test scores and all, making graduation impossible. Not long after this reckless act of youth, he hit the road, eventually landing in the former Palestine, where he was able to make an occasional living as a journalist. Along the way, Koestler became attracted to the Communist cause, and upon return to Europe in 1931, joined the Communist Party of Germany. With a life-long taste for danger and fairness, Koestler traveled to Paris then Spain to fight against Franco’s fascist regime. While working as a correspondent, he was captured, imprisoned, and sentenced to death, making him one of the few literary greats to have experienced death row. Freed under a prisoner swap, Koestler would later write about his experiences awaiting execution in his book Dialogue with Death.

In keeping with his non-traditional route to literary fame, Koestler penned a highly successful ‘sex dictionary’ called The Encyclopedia of Sexual Knowledge. But the sexual hi-jinks were just a cover for Koestler’s real work: it would not be long until he set to work on Darkness at Noon, his scathing look at the atrocities committed by Stalin in the name of Socialism. So inflammatory was the material that the manuscript had to be smuggled out of France, and into England, where it found its first publication. The book was incredibly influential in shaping Western attitudes towards the Soviet Union, and has since been recognized as a classic.

Koestler wrote numerous other books, and continued to be politically active throughout his entire life. Authors like Salmon Rushdie cite him as an influence in their work. Koestler was a life-long believer in Zionism and progressive causes like the banning of the death penalty, and even animal rights. Decisive, fearless, pragmatic: he took his own life when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Koestler died in  England in a double suicide with his wife in 1983. His influence is still felt today, and a statue of him was recently erected on Andrássy Avenue, paying tribute to a native son who found fame abroad.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

Matt Ellis is a writer and gives manuscript critiques in Budapest.

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This post was originally published in the PPM newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

There can be no question that Hungary holds a prominent place as an destination for international filmmakers. It is also widely acknowledged that the Hungarian film industry, with its technically proficient crews and directors, acts as a feed to Hollywood. But what about the artists in Hungarian film industry itself? On the international scene Hungarian film directors have been known for their rigorous attention to technique and uncompromising, even frustrating ability to defy genre categorization. In this post we would like to highlight some of the young up-and-coming Hungarian directors.

Among the most recent crop of filmmakers, Nimród Antal stands out in terms of international recognition. His film Kontroll, a comedic look at the lives of ticket inspectors on the Budapest metro system, got a release in the United States, a rarity these days for Hungarian language films. Kontroll became one of the highest-grossing films in Hungarian history, was screened at Cannes and won top prizes at festivals around the world. Though Antal was born in America (of Hungarian parents) he moved to his ancestral homeland to write and direct Kontroll.  After that film’s success, Antal directed the Hollywood thriller Vacancy and, most recently, the long-anticipated sequel of Predator.  Have a look a the Kontroll trailer here.

Kornél Mundruczó made a huge splash with his film Delta, a minimalistic drama whose long shots owe a lot to art-house favorite (and another lauded Hungarian film director) Bela Tarr.  Much was made of the quiet tension in the movie and taboo topic of incest, though many critics also cited the cinematography (Mátyás Erdély ) as outstanding. Delta was screened at Cannes, an honor shared by his previous film Johanna, and his most recent film, Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project. Have a peek at Delta’s trailer here.

György Pálfi recieved accolades for his film Hukkle, which was a David Lynch-like tour of a small town on the day of a murder. With practically no dialog, the film relied on almost purely visual storytelling. Hukkle was also noted for its use of sound, and was Hungary’s first ever use of a Dolby soundtrack. Instead of beating tracks to Hollywood, Pálfi went on to direct the challenging and gory Hungarian film Taxidermia. For a snippet of Hukkle, have a look here.

Bogdán Árpad’s debut film Happy New Life drew on the director’s experience as a child who was forcibly removed from his home and brought up in a state orphanage. Among other awards, his debut film won a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. This was followed up with a documentary called Looking for My Gypsy Roots, which chronicled the director’s reunion with his long-lost father. Bogdán, one of the only ethnically Roma Hungarian film directors, will release his latest film Necromancer this summer.

Only the future will tell if one of them will conquer Hollywood like fellow Hungarians Vilmos Zsigmond or Micheal Curtiz (Cassablanca). Selfishly, we hope that they stay in Hungary, make the most of the spectacular locations and add to this country’s great and diverse film history. But, as Nimród Antal said in an interview: “I think of course any European director who says that he doesn’t want to come over to work in America is lying–everyone wants to make an American film.”

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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It’s that time of year again, when our favorite Christmas celebrity makes house-calls to special children. We are, of course, not talking about St. Nick; that would be too obvious. Rather, it is time to celebrate the Krampus: Santa’s grotesque strong man. In North America, Santa leaves coal in naughty children’s stockings. In Central Europe,  St. Nick is too busy passing out gifts to bother with his ‘naughty’ list.  He  employs a devilish little character known as ‘Krampus’ to do his dirty work. Krampus, who looks something like a sooty demon, invades homes, kidnaps children who were ‘naughty’, stuffs them in his bag and steals them away to a fiery neither world below, never to be seen again. Santa’s elf, he is not.

The Krampus, while an important aspect of Christmas in Hungary, actually originates in the more Germanic climes near the Alps. He is especially popular in Austria, where many cities and towns hold yearly parades of men dressed in Krampus costume, wielding gilded switches with which to swat the behind of anybody who stands too close. Traditionally, Krampus is represented by a devil-like mask, long horns, a dangling lizard tongue, and cloven hooves.  Believed to a hold-over of the region’s Pagan past, Halloween can also be traced to the same rural tradition of animal and monster masks.

Krampus has long been a regular tradition in Central Europe (showing up on December 6th), but he is beginning to gain exposure in America as well. Recently, Krampus made an appearance on the Colbert Report, the popular political satire show, and Krampus parades have been held in more liberal cities like Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California. Given how anti-septic and commercial most American Christmas traditions have become, it is no surprise that people crave a little darkness and ill-spirit around the holidays. As you will note: December 6th has passed this year, but be sure to be good, or Krampus will have you on his list next time around.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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If you keep up with Hungarian film, you know two critically important things have happened over the past few years: first government film subsidies have all but dried up, and second, the Hungarian producer who has had so much success in Hollywood, Andrew Vajna, took over as head of the Hungarian National Film Fund. We suspect that his track record as a producer of commercially viable films (he had his hand in the Die Hard, Rambo, and Terminator franchises) had something to do with his being offered the reigns of the ailing Hungarian State film industry. Hungarian art films are frequently lauded at international film festivals, but I doubt there would be many people who would complain if a home-grown film also went on to be an international commercial success.

Recently it was revealed by Vajna that he plans to allow for government financing of 8 to 10 Hungarian films a year. While that number is hugely more than the 2 or 3 that are being state-subsidized this year, it is by no means a huge output. To put it in perspective: this compares with over 150 that got theatrical release from Hollywood alone. If ten directors graduated from Budapest’s famous Academy of Drama and Film each year, it is safe to say there are 500 Hungarian film directors angling for just 7 or 8 jobs. Those are pretty dismal odds. The same goes for the crews and technicians, though they are at least kept more busy with TV shoots and foreign commercials.

We hate to keep broadcasting this, but it means that there is just a wealth of talent here in Hungary which is being underutilized. We’ve discussed the spectacular and versatile locations ad infinitum in our newsletter (please sign up, and do it here!), but now is the time to come to this dynamic, film-loving country and make use of some of the most capable (and available) crews the world has to offer. Vajna is an uber-player, and it may be no co-incidence that Die Hard 5 will be filmed in Budapest, but as prolific and influential as Vajna is, he can’t do it all himself.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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