Restless Answers to Big Questions – An Interview with Mátyás Szabó

Mátyás Szabó, a recent graduate of the University of Theatre and Film Arts of Budapest (SZFE) is one of the ten young directors participating in Future Frames programme at the Karlovy Vary film festival. We asked this talented young filmmaker about the conception and making of The Border (Határ).

You have just finished your BA at SZFE. What was this experience like for you?

It was just like that of acting students: their first year performance is always the most honest, then they fall apart a bit during their second year, but are able to build themselves back up again for the third year, based on the knowledge they gained passing through this arc. My arc was just about the same. Luckily, I was able to define my directorial approach early in my last year: the qualities I have, and how to bring them to the surface. But of course, filmmaking is not a one-man show, and the school’s greatest gift was definitely the fact that we directors could start our studies parallel with classes from five other departments, so we were able to think as a crew from day one.

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Photo by Máté Bach

The Border is your graduation movie. What drew you to this subject?

My script editor classmate Barnabás Szöllősi came to me with this weird idea which caught my attention, but at first I couldn’t get a hold of it. It was about a restless guy who moves ahead throughout the story uncompromisingly, looking for answers to big, heavy questions. I loved the character, but it was all too theoretical. That’s when the idea of the hand car came up as a simple plot device. A man moving on a line. I saw it in my head and I just loved it. Later the hand car became sort of a character itself, and rewrote the whole story.

What proved to be the biggest challenge during filming?

While in pre-production, along with DOP Kristóf Deák and production manager István Szabó, we became railway experts. We scouted all the narrow- gauge rails, got in touch with everyone who ever saw a hand car – yet we ended up having to import a hand car from Slovakia. But an even bigger challenge was to find all these locations around the rails. We often needed to cheat a bit as our two main locations had two different rail widths, but I think only the biggest railway fans will notice this in the film.

The film debuted at the film school a few months ago. What were the reactions like?

It’s a tradition for us to show our films to the head teachers during the editing process, and they indeed gave me some very useful feedback. The second round was watching the movie with all of our classmates. They were pretty positive about it afterwards, but with editor Eszter Bodoky we had already examined their attention pattern and shifts during the screening. We changed the length a bit after that.

What are you currently working on?

I’m shooting another short film over the summer, a lean and precise, yet absurd story. I’m intrigued by experimenting with limiting my possibilities to a minimal core (just like The Border had the rail), and seeing how far can I go in it. It will definitely be an experiment, but the story itself is quite entertaining. In the meantime, I’m preparing for a more serious short film as well, and I also have a feature project with its groundwork already laid. Soon I will be starting work on it with a scriptwriter.

by Gábor Osváth

 

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