Interview        AGNES KOCSIS

Agnes Kocsis

At a relatively early stage in her career as a director, Ágnes Kocsis has already shown a resilience in getting her films made, underlining the rewards of persisiting with the do-it-yourself approach to film-making. With creativity, enthusiasm and persuausion, she has managed to get her shorts and first two feature-films made by raising most of the budget herself. Her original ideas and organisation have inevitably been at least some of the reasons the films were supported and continues the tradition of unique and innovative cinema from Hungary which in the past has given the world the likes of István Szabó, Miklós Jancsó, Péter Bacsó and more recently Béla Tarr. Her shorts and features have won numerous awards in film festivals, notably her first feature Fresh Air (Friss levegö, 2006) which won the main Golden Iris award for Best Film at the Brussels European Film Festival and also the FIPRESCI critics award at the Warsaw International Film Festival. Released four years later, her second feature Pál Adrienn (2010) won the 63rd Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard FIPRESCI prize. This was followed in other festivals in Europe with awards for directing, cinematography, an ecumenical award, and also an award for actress Éva Gábor. In May 2013 Pál Adrienn was screened as part of the EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture) European Film Festival showcase in Almaty, Kazakhstan, representing Hungary alongside nine other countries in Europe.

In this interview, Ágnes answers the mainly chronologically timelined questions regarding how she planned to be a film-maker from an early age, her influences, education, research, and her unique approach to film-making. Since her first short film Assorted Letters (Szortirozott levelek, 2000), which won prizes for Best Cinematographer (Gergely Pohárnok) and a Special Prize for Ágnes at the Hungarian Film Week, embedded in all of her films has been the portrayal of solitary people outside the fringes of society, focusing particularly on an individual who becomes increasingly isolated from human relationships, taking refuge in often bizarre interests as a comfort for their loneliness. Ágnes also talks candidly about the conditions of being a film director in Hungary today which, despite the traditions of the country and her appraisal from critics' both at home and internationally, tells the reality of the lack of state funding, both for herself and other directors too.

CL: How did you get into film-making and was this an ambition you had from a young age?

AK: At the very beginning of secondary school, somehow I just felt that I would like to do films. I don't know why, but I was quite sure of it nevertheless. There wasn't any reason, only maybe that I liked very much taking photos from a quite young age. Later I was going to cine clubs where I saw almost all the most important films of the 60's and 70's. After secondary school I felt I needed to continue studying because a film director has to know so many different things, and also has to have a mature personality. I still think that it was very useful to do other university courses before starting the Film Academy. So, at the University of the Human Sciences I finished Polish language and literature, Aesthetics, and Film history and theory. Of course two faculties from these three are really close to filmmaking and that gave me the true basics of my knowledge that would have been impossible to learn at the Academy of Film due to the lack of time and the different concept of teaching.

CL: You have said that you have no major influences and that films and directors you like are too numerous to mention in a short list to the point you now find the question slightly nauseating.

AK: I don't find the question nauseating as I know that people's minds are working in the way that always needs to compare things to another. But certainly I wouldn't be able to say a few directors or films that have a real importance in my artistic evolution. At the beginning of course everything had a huge influence on me – so many films seemed to be a big challenge. Then I started to like some films or directors more, others less, but I am making films now that have no direct connection with this. I started to do films and those I've made just became like this. Of course I had some idea of the style that I wanted to do the films in, but I cannot say that I started to do them like this or that because of someone's films that I liked. To tell the truth, some director's films that may seem a bit similar to my own I only discovered after I realized that we have somewhat similar ways of thinking. It is strange because some of these directors I had known before but I didn't realise this connection, or maybe it's because they weren't really among my 'favorites'.

Agnes KocsisAgnes Kocsis

CL: Where did the story come from for your first short film Assorted Letters?

AK: At that time I was given a theme – the city – for a short film. Thinking of this particular task, the idea came to my mind of a lonely person who observes many others and travels around the city to search for them. The way he is able to enter into these people's lives is to read their mail as he works at the post office sorting letters. (at that time e-mail was a very new thing and almost nobody used that). For many years he copies these letters and also makes photos of these people in secret by going to their homes. Subsequently he knows entire family stories. One day they bring in a new machine so he is not able to carry on his passion. At the end he continues to write the letters of the different peoples by himself, of course only for himself, just so that he can carry on with his album, his collection. This saves him, as observing others was the thing that compensated for the lack of human relationships in his life.

In general, I think that whatever theme you are given you start to get from it the story that interests you anyway.

CL: The character (Lajos Mezei) spends his life spying on other people. Did he have a major flaw in his personality that made him a voyeur or did he get drawn into that world because of the humdrum nature of his job?

AK: There is an element that is in every film I've made since my first short – the solitude. I think that solitude is one of the biggest problems in our societies. Man was born for a social life but most of them remain alone, even if they have people around. The feeling of solitude is what torments most of us for shorter or longer periods. But there are some who spend their lives a recluse, and the lonelier they get the more unable they are to create social relationships. After a certain time there is no way out from this situation without any external help. Some people try to create their own world, and this postman – as the possibility is given to him through his profession – creates the stories of his life by spending years observing certain people or families. Knowing almost every particular of their lives, he feels as if he is part of their lives, as though he belongs to them. This is a bit similar to those who are watching a never-ending TV series.

CL: Is it true you also worked on a Documentary in 2001 called It Would Be Like Sandokan? Tell us a bit more about this.

AK: It Would Be Like Sandokan was the film that I made in the first year of my studies at the Academy of Drama and Film, as an examination of documentary. This is about a homeless couple who were living on the edge of the city in a forest. They constructed a beautiful house of 5-6 rooms from garbage and they also made a garden where they raised animals and cultivated some plants. Actually I have chosen this theme because I wanted to break the flow of a huge amount of stereotypical documentaries that were made about homeless people since the political changes.

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