Screen Memories – Interview

25 years passed since State Socialism in Eastern Europe collapsed. The so called “Screen Memories Festival” wants to commemorate this era by showing different movies about this time produced in various countries. After visiting the “Screen Memories” film festival we got the chance to talk to one of the organizers. Dr. László Strausz teaches at the Institute for Art Theory and Media Studies at ELTE.

What was the main idea of the project?

It´s been 25 years since the regime change and it has always been a debated issue to what expend Hungarian movies remember the past and in Hungary there have been all kinds of discussions about this, that there is not enough Hungarian movies made about the past. So we thought that this anniversary is a great occasion to collect films from the entire region to see if – compared with Hungary in other countries such as Poland, Germany and so on – those countries are better in this sense than Hungary. Whether they are genre films, art films, comedies, thrillers that are made of our socialist past. Because I think whatever we think about the past is a very important component in defining our contemporary identities. Originally we just wanted to do an academic conference but later we realized that it would be much more interesting if there would be a film festival connected to it, so I organized it as well.

What is the importance of showing movies related to state socialism?

The past is always politicized. Remembering is never impartial. You remember the past because you want to do something with it. And in Hungary right now the past is a very hotly debated issue. Political parties remember it in the way they want to remember, other institutions create their own versions of the past and I think it´s very important that we realize nobody knows what the past really was. I mean I was a small kid when State Socialism happened. So I don´t necessarily remember myself, I remember some stuff. But the most important thing is not authenticity and that we remember it in the correct form, because I´m convinced that doesn´t exist; nobody knows what the correct representation of history is. We want to remember the past because we want to do something with it. And once we recognized that then we can start a discussion why we have not one past but two, three, four, five competing versions of the past. And that can lead to a very interesting discussion of why those versions exist and what they want to achieve.

How did you decide which movies where shown at this festival?

I didn´t. It was the cultural Institutes. So the Goethe Institute, the Polish Institute, the Slovakian, the Czech, the Estonian and the Bulgarian Institutes were invited to participate. Actually more Institutes were invited but these were those institutes that decided to participate in the project and we basically handed it over to them. So the only criterion was that the movies should have not been distributed in movie theaters before our festival. Some of the movies were shown at other film festivals but not distributed regularly in movie theaters and they all had to be films made after 1989 about the era before `89.

What did you discuss during the Conference? Did you have something like a results or special topic that everyone wanted to talk about?

Not really. Conferences don’t really have consequences in that sense.It is good when we don’t agree. I actually like disagreement. But what everybody seemed to be saying is – what I’ve already referred to –  the fact that the past I think is unreachable. It’s a distant country, it’s something else. We don’t have access to it, there’s no such thing as history with the capital age because it’s over and every presenter thought that is not so important to ask the question: “What the past was” but “Why we remember the past the way we remember it?” So, moods, styles, genres of remembering were discussed, we’ve talked about documentaries, experimental films that came from the former Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, Romania and if there was one agreement it was remembering is politics. It’s always politics, it’s always politicizes. It´s not a harmless thing that we do and we remember what happened in the State Socialism because we take certain elements of the past that is going to be part of our contemporary identities and which parts of those past we use for the construction of the contemporary identities is a very important thing. And it’s a choice that everyone makes. Memory is selective. We never remember the whole thing, we have preferences, we make choices and that was sort of a consensus throughout the conference.

Can you summarize the different movies that were shown in this festival? Was it just one genre or different kinds of movies?

All kinds of stuff. 80 million was a crime film, we had comedies, melodramas, artistic projects that can’t be categorized in any of the established Hollywood genres. At least half of the selection was documentary films, which I think is very important. So, no, we didn’t tell the institutes “this is the type of stuff that you have to bring”. The selection was completely handed over to them.

What’s your favorite movie of the list and why?

I think the “Rabbit à la Berlin” was probably one of my favorite films because it created this really unusual perspective to think about the Berlin Wall, from the perspective of the animals and it was done in a really smart way. It was a fake sort of National Geographic, sort of a nature film. The narrator spoke about the rabbits as if even he didn´t have any clue what’s around the rabbits. So, that was a very smart film. Also, Disco and Atomic War, that was an Estonian documentary, was a wonderful film, which was about the radio wars between Estonia and Finland. You know, Estonia and Finland are very close to each other. Tallinn and Helsinki are probably 450 Km from each other, just on the two sides of the shore. If you lived in Tallinn you could listen to the western radio that was a broadcast from Helsinki, so the party was trying to block the radio waves so they came out with all these crazy ideas of establishing big antennas that were distraction the radio waves. That was a fantastic documentary I’ve enjoyed that very much. So probably those two.

How was the feedback of the audience?

The feedback was very different with the festival and with the conferences. We were really disappointed by the small number of people who came for the films. We had very little money for marketing which is probably the most important cause. We made videos, posters, but nobody here is a marketing professional. The people who came liked the films but there were not enough people.

But the feedback with the conferences was wonderful. Everybody enjoyed it, that was a better feeling. It was a more successful event, because there were people who came directly for this because they are really interested in this, so the discussion of the whole event was wonderful. There were 30 people presenting and at least 50 people listening.

Was it a good experience?

The festival part of “Screen Memories” was very hard to organize because of the languages, because of the six different Institutes. Coordination was a nightmare. But it was a great selection of movies. I saw a large number of good films, so it was good for me. The movies for Toldi Mozi were not very good because they didn’t make a lot of Money.

Are you planning to do another festival like Screen memories ?

Probably not the festival part, but probably yes for the conference part. We thought about doing just single screenings of a couple of important films. So it’s not a festival but just dedicated screenings of a couple of films. And I think about the same topic, we are just scratching the surface now.

Mathilde Raes, Rebekka Victor, Ana Cavalcanti

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