Pictures for Words – Interview with Fanni Szilágyi

The short film End of Puberty by Fanni Szilágyi was selected for the Short Cuts Programme of the Toronto International Film Festival. She talks about her inspirations and about being a female director in Hungary. 

What is the inspiring idea behind End of Puberty?

This is a coming-of-age movie based on a short story written by Réka Mán-Várhegyi, a young and talented author whose first book has recently gained great recognition in Hungary. Last year, the teacher of our master class of university, Péter Gothár, set us the task of choosing a work written by a contemporary writer for transfer to a workshop film. I absorbed the contemporary literature, reading all the time, but I couldn’t find the right material, the story which is personal in such a way that I can also add something valuable to it. In parallel, I got an assignment from a literary organisation to create a book trailer for Mán-Várhegyi’s writings, so I started to read them and form an impression on their mood. End of Puberty is the very first story in the collection and I was so astonished by its familiar tone that I immediately decided to adapt it into a script. I was very lucky with this job, not only because book trailers are an interesting genre in themselves, but also because I discovered a book that mirrored myself and my teenage memories about the vibrant but elusive nineties. I’m currently working on my graduation film, which is also an adaptation from a Mán-Várhegyi piece dealing with a young girl and her problems. Although this girl will be a bit older than the heroines of End of Puberty, it seems that I’m still closely engaged with stories about growing up.

szilagyi fanni-hf

Photo by Gábor Valuska

Your studies at the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest are far behind you. What was the most important experience that took you there?

After I was graduated from high school I left Hungary to study in Denmark for a year. That year was a time when I got to know myself better and also when I finally decided that I wanted to deal with art in some way. When I moved back to Hungary I enrolled in the photography programme at the University of Kaposvár, where I got the basic visual knowledge that greatly helped me at the entrance exam of the cinematography programme in Budapest. I first got a Bachelor’s degree in cinematography but then changed to directing in the Master’s programme. If you are a female cinematographer and you have to bear extreme situations and carry heavy tools, etc., everyone feels an urge to help you, therefore don’t request anything that could be embarrassing or painful for you. This soured my life during the three years of my cinematography studies. It is very hard to deal with, but if you want to be a female cinematographer (which is worth a lot) you have to be prepared for it. Since there was no director class as such that was offered in the BA training, we would work together in each other’s films, always changing roles. This meant that we could all try others out, leading me to direct my classmates’ shorts. I now work in both cinematography and directing. I have to add that I’m very grateful to the teachers of my master classes, Tibor Máthé of cinematography and Péter Gothár of directing, because both of them gave me the essential of the philosophy of film-making.

To what extent do you contribute to the work of your cinematographers?

To tell you the truth, I love directing, but I also miss cinematography. I always try to moderate myself, but I’m not sure that I succeed. End of Puberty is a double story by two cinematographers, Kristóf Becsey and Nándor Gulyás. Even though we had discussed everything, I concentrated more on the actors than on the technical details of creating the pictures during the working process. The perfect cast, the rehearsals and working out how to act naturally were extremely important here.  Anyway, in the age of light cameras and mobile devices, I think that every film-maker must to some extent be familiar with picture-capturing techniques. You don’t have to control every tiny detail, of course, but you can’t be an amateur either. A comfortable solution is to place complete trust in your cinematographer, to lay down some of the stress and strains, but I really don’t know anyone who follows this method.

In this film, the biggest challenge was shooting at sunset. Together we had to come up with a solution as to how to compress every important item in the golden 15 minutes. I tried to work with the theme of the sunset in other scenes as well; you can see, for example, a picture on the wall of the flat of the block house. Pictures and words enhance each other all the time, and this is how you get from a well-set written short story to a movie with intense visual style.

Do you have any role models among the rich heritage of female Hungarian authors?

I especially like the works of Ágnes Kocsis, but her method is very different to mine. For me as director, Ildikó Enyedi is definitely the most important Hungarian female director, and her art, thoughts and attitude meant a lot to me during my progress in the creative field. And although this is an example from outside of Hungary, I must also mention Andrea Arnold, who is the director of the amazing movie Fish Tank. This film was one of my basic recent experiences, since its strong and fresh style can perfectly capture the stormy soul of a teenager and the hopeless atmosphere of the metropolitan outskirts. Although I may not be consciously focusing on women’s issues, I feel that my true voice can be no other than personal and deep-routed in my womanhood.

by Janka Barkóczi


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