Between documentary and dream – interview with András Szirtes

András Szirtes was one of the “translucent beings” of IDFF Jihlava 2010. He was interviewed for festival journal by another original hungarian filmmaker Gyula Nemes

You have been making films for forty years; your style, however, has not changed at all. Technologies change yet approaches remain.

You cannot change your mentality. Once a girl asked me when I would finally grow up. I hope I never will. I would be immensely serious and boring if I was adult. Every person is genetically defined. Your life story will influence you, yet in the core, you will remain the same all your life. Let us take the Hungarian filmmaker Gyula Nemes, who is interviewing me right now, and who has achieved European significance, for an example. His behaviour has changed completely; he started to have the manners of a filmmaker. However, that is but a surface; in his heart, he has remained a little boy. My films, too, are genetically defined, since they primarily tell the story of my life, influenced and transformed by various events.

In what ways were you able to maintain this approach and make it into a life-long body of work?

I never realized what I was doing. I have always been doing things intuitively. Life is much more important than film. Some people do something because it is important to them. Be it in film or in theatre. They feel a strong urge to communicate it to their viewers. Let’s call it a “mission”. However, I am convinced that that is a big misunderstanding. On the other hand, you can believe in God, just like I do. Then you can say that when God gave you such a talent, you just have to fulfil this special mission for the sake of mankind. I myself switch between these two extremes. An acquaintance of mine told me lately that I am not “in” any more. I am too romantic and conservative, and therefore unable to face the challenges of the 21st century. I do not consider myself a classic filmmaker. I cannot say which of my works fit which pigeonhole. Documentary films, experimental films, fiction films etc. I just like the label SZIRTESFILMS. I hope I don’t have to categorize myself, that’s a task for the historians. I don’t even know what I’m doing here at a documentary film festival. They have chosen my films that are moving on the border between genres.

I believe your films fit this year’s festival since you are a dreaming documentarist.

I’ve been asked to make a thirty-second video on the border between documentary and dream for the Czech Television. I asked them whether they were sure about it. I am not able to film something that would be broadcast by a commercial television. In the end they convinced me. However, when I sent them the result, they said it was poetic and nice yet unsuitable.

Could you elaborate on your concept of documented dreams?

I’ve never been interested in making moving images. I have been rather curious about how to visually represent certain states, be it on video or film. Then I followed their accumulation in material. To me, it is easy to follow them, since I remember the state I was in when I was shooting the film. However, it is only at the moment when others come to understand it that I start to believe in the possibility of reflecting a certain perception. I don’t care about the constrained way of making (not only) documentary films. I am deprived by reality so I try to break loose from it. The reality of imagination is much more important. If someone is able to document something like that, then I can admit he has achieved a certain niveau. His work will have a chance that it will not get old. In terms of documenting imagination, I always think of one question. How is it possible to make films about the world if we do not live but only make films? I can see my contemporaries worrying about the possibility of double self-realization. They think they can either live or make films. I have never been able to divide the two, and I don’t want to. Whenever I have a camera, I always like to film something. That doesn’t even change with age.

Does it ever happen that you write a script first and only then shoot?

I guess I rather advocate the approach that is closer to the fine arts. What I mean is a constant direct communication between the maker and the material. It has been different with each film, however. For example, in case of Marquis de Sade and His Life, there was a period of two years of research, when I was just collecting material and writing a script. Then it took us a month to do the shooting. In case of Lenz, it took me a year to write a script and then two years to make the film. On the other hand, when making Juliette, each night before the shooting, I wrote a script for the next day. Neither I nor the actor knew what would be going on the next day. A filmmaker in the original sense of the word has to think about fundraising first. However, I have never cared if I get money for my film. I will always get some money and make the film. When the money doesn’t come from Hungary, it comes from elsewhere. I am living and I am making films, I am making films and I am living. I am in a constant state between documentary and dream.


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