It would be hard to name a period in the history of Hungarian animation that was truly unsuccessful, so we would be cautious in highlighting contemporary films of the category as a new wave or golden age of animated films. Of course there are times, though, when the pieces come together and every pixel finds its place. So we could just say that the present and the near future is a pixel-perfect time for Hungarian animation.
Having a vivid culture of animation demands strong educational institutions that prepare and form young talents; producers, production companies and a professional environment that can manage and employ filmmakers; and a healthy financial support system that can help realise unique arthouse projects as well as foster investments into popular formats.
In Hungary the educational institutions of animation have greatly developed in recent years. For example, MOME (Moholy Nagy Művészeti Egyetem) has produced dozens of award-winning graduation films under the supervision of József Fülöp, who was the director of the university’s Media Institute and the producer of several successful MOME films (he was appointed university chancellor last year).
One of the key elements of MOME’s success is that they encourage their students to find their own way into international networks by becoming regular participants of pitching forums, development workshops and scholarships. MOME has become the coordinator of mutual projects with other European universities, such as ASF (Animation Sans Frontiers) and Adaptation for Cinema workshops, all of which incite their students to participate. The fact that a great deal of former graduates are involved in the projects of current students says a lot about the cohesive force of MOME. Moreover, many want to work together professionally, by launching a production company for example, as did former graduates Bella Szederkényi and Bálint Gelley when they founded CUB Animation.
More great news is that the Budapest Metropolitan University (BMU, previously known as BKF) has offered important new courses over the past few years, including a carefully coordinated education programme that resulted in a BA and MA animation course. As a powerful investor has recently arrived to the university, more developments are sure to take shape soon enough.
The financial support of animation is thanks to the Hungarian National Film Fund (graduation films and feature-length animations) and to the Media Council’s Film and Media Funding Scheme (short animations and animation series). This system has not been unanimously well received by filmmakers, but major players (universities and the biggest production companies) have adapted to the new scheme. Selected for the Berlinale Shorts, LOVE was supported by the Media Council, which might open doors for other brave animations that are mainly made for festival audiences. The first feature-length animation of the Hungarian National Film Fund, ‘The Ring of King Solomon’, is coming soon, and good news is that one of the selected projects of the Incubator Program – a low-budget first feature support scheme of the HNFF – is White Plastic Sky, an animation sci-fi by Tibor Bánóczki and Sarolta Szabó (find out more about the project on pages 16-19). The public TV’s children’s channel presents a good opportunity to foster the industry with regular productions of animation series supported by the Media Council. Another good sign is that there are grass-root projects that can result in films like the ‘Manieggs – the Revenge of the Hard Eggs’, a feature-length animation comedy that was produced without any state support but managed to make it to cinema distribution nonetheless.
Short animation film has had a renaissance at international level. With the emergence of new digital platforms, the popularity of short creative content has been boosted. Nowadays, a successful young filmmaker’s goal is not only to be selected for prestigious film festivals, but also to gather views, likes and followers online – and to find a wider audience. Being “staff picked” by Vimeo, for example, means reaching hundreds of thousands of viewers. This has happened to several Hungarian short animations, like Rabbit and Deer by Péter Vácz, Home by Bálint Gelley and Orsolya by Bella Szederkényi, all of which had had a fruitful festival run before, but the power of social media managed to launch their career even further.
More online sensations are to come, as there are loads of successful Hungarian short animations that have been produced in recent years and are still on a festival run or are just leading up to one.
Réka Bucsi: Symphony No. 42 and LOVE
Réka Bucsi is not unknown to Hungarian Film Magazine readers given that there was a portrait of her in the 2015 Berlinale issue and that we have written a lot about her festival triumphs. Symphony No. 42 has become a symbolic piece: with its Berlinale Shorts premiere and more than 150 festival appearances (including Austin, Hiroshima and Sundance), this film now hallmarks the freshness of Hungarian animation. It has managed to be catchy on the surface but thoughtful deep down, hence the deepest philosophical questions (“the meaning of life”) being told while showing carefully designed slapstick gags.
Symphony No. 42 was Réka Bucsi’s MOME graduation film, which she definitely made the most of. Besides festival success, her film generated international interest and accelerated Réka’s career, helping her to accomplish her next film in an international co-production, which is still quite unique among short animations. LOVE was produced by Boddah from the Hungarian side and Passion Pictures from the French side. The design and production of the film both went so well that Réka is returning to Berlin after being selected for the Berlinale Shorts, just two years after ‘Symphony No. 42’. This is a very special achievement for a filmmaker and puts Réka Bucsi in the club of artists who are regular participants in the Berlinale Shorts competition.
“LOVE is based on atmosphere and sensation. I was interested in coming up with a distant planet’s structure and system without making the viewer question its existence. I chose animals and creatures, the most interesting aspect for me at the time and which were appearing the most in my sketchbook”, says Réka Bucsi. On the one hand the film can be seen as a continuation of Symphony No. 42 in terms of visual style, but on the topic of love it is more poetic and haiku-like.
Tibor Bánóczki and Sarolta Szabó: Leftover
Tibor Bánóczki and Sarolta Szabó work together and are both members of the MOME family after having graduated from there. Tibor is also now the director of the animation department and, as a teacher, has a strong influence on the freshly produced MOME films.
Their case is quite unique though, as – except for their university projects – they have only made films in France and in the UK. Their latest short entitled ‘Leftover’ is a French production made with the well-known company Paprika Films. It was selected for Clermont-Ferrand, nominated for a César Award and featured at the Slamdance Festival in the United States. Bánóczki and Szabó are always on the lookout for heavy topics that can be discussed effectively with the tools of animated films. ‘Leftover’ asks what it means to eat alone in human society by showing six different lives to help answer the question and understand the nature of human relationships. As was mentioned above, their next project is produced within the framework of the Incubator Program (so they can finally create a film with Hungarian contribution too) and also asks important questions, like how can we waste our lives in the rat race of civilisation and what would happen if there would be no more food available on Earth? So for quite a while, White Plastic Sky was the only Hungarian feature-length arthouse animation.
Zsuzsanna Kreif and Borbála Zétényi: Limbo Limbo Travel
Here is another MOME graduation film that contains much more intellectual and financial investments than the norm. After the project was pitched at the Visegrád Animation Forum and discovered by the French producer Christian Pfohl it soon became an international co-production. As such, the production went a little bit slower than was perhaps wished for, but the final results convinced everyone that it was well worth having taken all the efforts.
Limbo Limbo is set in a country where men seem more interested in their electronic gadgets than in their peers, leading to a group of lonely and disillusioned women to hop on the Limbo Limbo bus. Off to a far and exotic country, they hope to find the happiness that they are so looking forward to. The bizarre universe of this foreign country functions as an extremely sharp mirror of today’s problems between women and men. The validity of the film is also proved by its festival results (find out more about the film on pages 22-23 as well as about their premiere at Sundance through an interview with the directors on pages 42-43).
MOME and BMU’s most recent graduation films have just been finalised and many are now waiting for a festival premiere. The Noise of Licking by Nadja Andrasev seems to be a promising festival film, which tells is a surreal and sensitive presention of a lonely woman and her relationship with a cat. Milán Kopasz made tremendous effort in order to realise his film Beyond creating the figures with 3D printer and painting each mimics by hand. Black Out by Borbála Mészáros and Zsuzsanna Rádóczy is a graduation film at Budapest Metropolitan, which shows the daily routine of the office life broken by a power shortage. We are sure that more hits in Hungarian animation will appear in the next few months, so it’s worth following them all around the world.