Numerous Hungarian short animations competed at the most prestigous festivals all around the world in the recent years. Most of these films were produced by the Moholy-Nagy University of Art And Design in Budapest. We talked with József Fülöp, the rector of the school.
interview by Dániel Deák
You were previously the head of the Animation Department at MOME. What drove you, as animation film director, to undertake the role of the head of the institution?
In the 1990s digitalisation started knocking louder and louder on our doors – which created a new situation. I was curious as to how young people used it and what changes had been brought on in their way of thinking. I can’t figure out why that is, but just like waterpolo, animation is probably a talent in our genes that rises to the surface with ease.
Thanks to the digital era, we realised that the equipment, which is necessary in animation filmmaking, is more easily variable and accessible, as well as being much more easily adaptable for teaching animation, which didn’t use to be the case.
The accession to the EU saw a lot of new opportunities for European collaboration, for the creation of joint workshops, which opened that perspective up for students. They were able to realise what we’re good at, and we could together realise what we’re not good at and how to improve. We thought as a group. We built a community and organised teamwork between students as well as teamwork between teachers and students.
Réka Bucsi appears in the Berlinale Shorts competition, Nadja Andrasev is competing in Cinéfondation and Luca Tóth is in the Critics Week programme, just to name a few among the several MOME films in festivals. Apart from acquiring both a national and an international reputation, what kind of impact can they have in the long term?
The most direct impact is of course on their own lives, and I hope that they can live off it and launch their creator careers. But if we look a little further down the line, the impact will ideally be that the decision-makers might realise, either in the economic competition domain or in the cultural domain, the potential of a country’s image and creative industry, which is where products of a world standard can emerge. A couple of successes here and there, an Oscar nomination, being present at Cannes or festival successes can be the exclamation marks to build a cultural support system to supply Hungarian- language content to growing Hungarian children of all times. From that point of view animation is the most adaptable tool for it.
Whoever works in teaching or in assistance should use them wisely by way of a kind of cultural diplomacy. We usually say that the French are extremely proud of their cheese, wine and films. And that they do everything so that these three cultural products really have the representable effects on national economy. And there must be methods to reach that. For us these festival successes are like fireworks.
At the Festival de Cannes, one of the world’s biggest festivals, you go and you think it will all be about you, and of course part of it is, but at the same time you’re only a tiny drop in the ocean. How can you prepare them to assert themselves in this kind of situation?
The eternal question is where to put the limit so that a school doesn’t think beyond its own role. When do you let the creators go, when do you set them free to run around and not run with them at all costs. Personally I’ve always thought that a school is doing the right thing if it doesn’t set limits too strictly.
From the mid 2000s we were given the opportunity to collaborate with other schools. We were able to establish platforms in the framework of co-productions where we could incubate these situations, where the abovementioned ladies, Luca and Nadja, were also present. That’s what Animation Sans Frontières is about. It has been operating for almost 10 years now.
MOME is smack in the middle of a big renovation project. Its campus is being refurbished and new buildings are growing out of the ground. What will this mean for the Animation Department?
The most important goal is to create a home for ourselves, for teachers and for students. In the last 15-20 years MOME heavily concentrated on knowledge and on interesting people. However, it wasn’t able to establish a physical environment where ideas are not just defined according to a meeting point of view but are also according to a creation point of view.
I hope that from the animation teaching point of view it will be a significant change. Because in the past few years we experienced a difficulty in pinning creators down because there were no computers that were powerful enough or there were no tables that would be available to the same person for a full year. We would therefore like to improve our course and get an animation studio up and running for our three-year bachelor degree. We’ll establish a workshop that actually follows a studio model, with all kinds of knowledge that doesn’t exist in a studio but does in a university.
How do you see the past situation of Hungarian animation?
A generation has come about that is able to take its own initiative to seize opportunities after school. I think we’re in a much better place now than we were 10 years ago, for example. And among other things it’s thanks to changes in the support systems. Media Patronage programme and Hungarian National Film Fund took into consideration what hadn’t been possible in the ‘90s, which was that animation couldn’t be sustained, not because we support the art of animation but because we push the animation industry forward. So there can be support for series and also for long-term, sustainable economic projects. The only question is where will they be shown? On thematic TV channels? Theoretically they exist in Hungary, but in practice there hasn’t been any breakthrough yet.
In order for the contents to become available, it would be important for decision-makers to think about how there could be a return on the investment that they are currently pouring into various support programmes.
Another similar systemic issue is, for example, how to support co-productions. How could both young and old Hungarian studios joina Slovakian, Czech, Polish or French project? Because there have been examples of the other way around. Either we’re doing service jobs or we’re able to lure producers of French films into joining Hungarian projects.
We’ll soon find out whether Hungary will deliver long-lasting successful short film directors, successful feature-length animation films or brands like we had in the ’70s and ’80s – TV shows with recognisable characters – to foster the development of the Hungarian industry and culture of animation films.
Read the other articles of Hungarian Film Magazine, here: