This year, Art Film Fest’s Golden Camera award went to Oscar-winning Hungarian director István Szabó. At the press conference later, he reflected that an award won by a film’s director is actually a recognition of everyone who put their talent into the film. Meaning that few awards actually belong to the director.
You were born into a long line of doctors, and you often say you would’ve been a doctor if you hadn’t been a filmmaker. Even when you accepted the Golden Camera, you said that you want to heal the soul through your work. Your own soul or the viewer’s?
I’m not so self-obsessed that I’d make films to heal myself of all people.
How can a filmmaker heal?
Every art form has the power to heal. Whether it’s film, literature or theatre we’re talking, quite possibly their most important component is the ability to show people that they aren’t alone. After all, the characters in a work of art have the same problems as the rest of us. When you realize that, it follows that you’re struggling with the same problems as Anna Karenina, as Natasha Rostova, as the brothers Karamazov.
Would you say that filmmakers share something in common with psychologists, trained as they are to heal people’s psyches?
Perhaps. But I think there’s still a difference between them, as filmmakers and theatre makers don’t work with a single person, like a psychologist does, but with a whole team of people.
How can a filmmaker best appeal to their audience? Is the story a film’s most important element? Or the camerawork? Or the music, for example?
Most important is to know exactly what you’re inviting the audience to.
And in your case?
That varies from film to film. Even when I invite someone to dinner, I have to have a reason for it. And the reason’s always different.
Your films reflect the history of Central Europe. Can you imagine what your films would be like if you lived elsewhere?
Above all I can’t imagine not being a Central European. This part of the world is of special importance to me. Central Europe, Hungary even more, and Budapest even more than that.
What is it that makes Central Europe so important to you?
In the 20th century, all of us here suffered the same torments and had the same experiences. Though my parents lived in Hungary, they surely went through the same as their peers in Slovakia, for example. Central Europe is a place where politics and ideology attempted to intrude all the way into everyone’s personal lives. We hoped that the 21st century would fare better. But when I look around me, I fear that it won’t.
If you hadn’t experienced all this first-hand, would you still be able to make films?
I can easily imagine not being able to make films. I always wanted to be a doctor like my father and grandfather. I became a filmmaker essentially by accident.
Aside from films, you’ve also directed several opera productions. What’s the difference between directing an opera and a film?
When directing operas, I’ve always had to study a great deal, since I’m no musician. And so I had to study composers, be it Wagner or Verdi, which opera directors don’t have to do, since they’ve been well-versed in their work since their schooldays.
So you don’t have to study anything when directing a film?
I learned to direct films when I was young. I have experience managing a film crew of 60 or 70; I don’t have to worry about craft. And I can focus on how I’m telling the story, how to pique audiences’ interest in it, how to inspire love for the characters, and how to say what’s important to me in a way that makes it important to the audience, too.
How do you picture the viewers you make your films for?
I’m the first viewer—that’s my job. I don’t picture anyone; I represent my viewers myself. When I don’t like something, I’m sure my audiences won’t like it either. And when I do like something, well then I can’t be sure of anything.