The legacy of Hungarian filmmakers is inadequately treated
Balázs Bokor, the president of the Hungarian Hollywood Council talked to us about the possible methods by which the Council could promote Hungarian movie-makers, and about their plans, that could strengthen Hungarian-American ties.
- Please tell us about the Founding of the Hungarian Hollywood Council, why did you think it was important to establish?
- The civil organization was founded in 2016. Before that I was the Hungarian Consul General in Los Angeles, and I’ve frequently participated in motion picture events. I thought it was an important topic therefore I’ve established the Hungarian Hollywood Council. By today, it has managed to grow into an organization with almost 500 members, that’s basically about the conservation of Hollywood’s Hungarian heritage. Its goal is to memorialize the legacy of movie icons of Hollywood and elsewhere, showcasing their feats, so that we can be proud of these people.The Council keeps close ties with the local governments of famous Hungarian movie makers’ birthplaces, and they have an excellent relationship with us. There’s been hundreds of events for example in Ricse, the birthplace of Paramount’s founder, Alfred Zukor or at Tolcsva where William Fox was born. Many Hungarians are completely oblivious to their own country’s motion picture treasures. We do all of these things in order to publicize Hollywood’s Hungarian roots. Cinematographers, screenwriters, directors. For example, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame there’s close to 30 Hungarian names!We support young filmmakers and organize film festivals. We helped to create the Szeged Film Festival, which was named after Vilmos Zsigmond (who was also from Szeged), and at Cegléd where we established the George Pál Cinema, started film festivals, and did many round table conversations and conferences.Our Vice President is Ferenc Rofusz, Academy Award winning director, and our board includes honorary members, such as Gábor Csupó and Béla Bunyik, mayors of Ricse and Tolcsva. Our membership contains amateur filmmakers and professionals alike.
- How is the work like in the Council?
- Usually we organize events weekly, which took place all around in Hungary before the pandemic, and everyone who was interested in movies in general was welcome. We try our best to commemorate the birthdays of great filmmakers, organize gatherings and introduce their art. We have a meeting at the same time as the Academy Awards ceremony. In total there’s 54 Oscars tied to Hungarians. We usually only talk about winners who operate in Hungary, but there’s much more Academy Award winners with Hungarian roots. Ferenc Rofusz received his in 1981 for the film “The Fly”, which was 40 years ago, and we intend to keep celebrating that anniversary.Our Council, has its own award: The Adolf Zukor Award. In 2020 the prize was presented to Csaba Káél and Róbert Koltai, before that, to director Gábor Herendi and stuntman Gábor Piroch. Ferenc Rofusz, Béla Szakcsi Lakatos and Charlie Horváth also received it.
- This year’s awarding ceremony was moved to the end of April, so who knows, maybe by then we can do a live event?
- We’re also researching the Hungarian heritage of celebrities: Robert Downey Jr.’s great-grandparents rest in a Jewish cemetery in Tata, as the ancestors of Sarah Michelle Gellar do in Sátoraljaújhely. There’s many interesting research going on, and we often find Hungarian blood in those we never thought of such as, the mothers of Drew Barrymore or Goldie Hawn.
- You’ve mentioned plans to make a movie about the life of Adolf Zukor.
- We have already completed a pilot film, that we would want to develop into an hour-long documentary. We have been backed by Origo Studios, so it’s absolutely feasible, that we can complete an 8-episode TV miniseries with the Adolf Zukor documentary serving as its first entry. The second episode would be about the Korda brothers, with the rest revolving around others, such as: William Fox, Imre Pressburger , Hollywood screenwriters, and about cinematographers, like Vilmos Zsigmond, László Kovács, Ernest László…
- At what stage the process is at?
- At this time only the Adolf Zukor pilot is finished, but it’s still in an early phase. Assisted and supported by Origo Studios, we’re still working on completing it. These films are supposed to be part of a TV series, although because of our dedication to the cause of popularizing the legacy of these filmmakers we are ready to consider every medium.It’s no secret that we want to take further steps forward in order to promote the series abroad. The characters depicted became irreplaceable figures of cinema. We don’t treat the memory of these Hungarian filmmakers adequately in Hungary. They’re better known in Los Angeles than at home, both their achievements and their ancestry.Visiting the museum at Paramount Pictures, the first thing you’ll notice is pictures of Adolf Zukor, his birthplace Ricse is mentioned as well. In Ricse, his memory is well cherished by filmmakers, he has a kind of cult following. Both a plaque and a “csárda” (“traditional Hungarian roadside inn” – TN), where they serve his favorite dishes commemorating him. We’re also thinking about establishing a Paramount Park in the village.Mátészalka plays an important role, from where Tony Curtis’ family originates. He himself visited the city numerous times, where we plan to open a memorial museum, along with another Adolf Zukor Cinema. We gave a visit to his widow, along with the mayor, who gave us plenty of memorabilia to present there. In this case, the roots are well treated.
- How important is the Hungarian motion picture heritage regarding the Hungarian-American relations?
- Quite important, yes. In California there’s a position like the “Commissioner for the Advancement of the Hungarian Cinema”, and here at home, this position goes to Csaba Káel. The head of it in America is Colleen Bell, director of the California Film Commission, former US Ambassador to Hungary. She herself, is a producer, and the possibility of some joint Hungarian-American productions were discussed with her. Such movies would serve as the first pillars of such partnership.