Interview with Anna Ida Orosz
Anna Ida Orosz is Hungarian film historian focusing primarily on Hungarian animated films. She teaches animation history at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (MOME) in Budapest, and since 2012 she has been working as the animation specialist of the Hungarian Film Archive (MANDA). She is the co-founder and curator of PRIMANIMA World Festival of First Animations Hungary. At this year Animateka she curated the programme Hungary visiting.
Your parents are both artists working in animation. How much was your decision to focus on animation influenced by them?
I was very much influenced by my parents. From an early age on I knew how animation film is done and I had a chance to visit old studios and see the old techniques. Now, that I work in Hungarian Film Archive in Budapest and I work with old stocks of films, it is natural for me to handle them. I was very sorry that we couldn’t screen the movies from original prints at Animateka because I think the atmosphere they create is different than watching them from digital files.
Were you ever part of your parents’ creative process?
My father always let me draw some unimportant lines (smile). He uses a lot of rotoscopy (a technique where you shoot real people and then redraw them) and he always uses family members or close friends and colleagues.
In the Hungarian animated film retrospective III we could see movies made by your parents. How would you describe their work?
I think Wizards (Garabonciák, Dóra Keresztes, István Orosz, 1985) and all my mother’s work is not just about social context of the time but is much more universal. In the 80s female artists couldn’t work independently or get financed, this is also the reason why my parents worked together, but nonetheless my mum has unique style. It is based in the folklore and is very feminine. Her main work is illustrating books for children and her animation reflects that. Marcell Jankovics, the director of the feature film Son of the White Mare (Fehérlófia, 1981), also shown at Animateka, worked with my mum on her first film (Moon Film [Holdasfilm, 1979]) and was influenced by her – you can see he uses a similar style, so called ornamental style, which is very different from the character based animation. Also Farewell, Little Island! (Isten Veled, Kis Szeget!, Sándor Reisenbücher, 1987) is made in this style – my mum collaborated with him as well.
My father is much more interested in classical, realistic art and optical illusions in his animation – his background is mainly in poster design. He made a lot of political posters in the 80s and 90s, which can be seen in his films. Mind the Steps! (Vigyázat Lépcsō!, István Orosz, 1989), for example, is very philosophical piece about the state of affairs of that time. There are many references to socialism, even graffiti: “Long live socialism”.
After seeing the retrospective of milestones in history of Hungarian animation we got the feeling that animated films from the 70s and 80s are mainly dealing with issues of the society and the individual while later ones seem to be more personal. Would you agree?
I agree, they are getting more personal, probably more storyline based and less definitive. I think it was a trend in 60s, 70s, and 80s, not only in Hungarian animation but also in the world that short film format animation is for addressing philosophical question of life, existential questions, and later it got a bit more personalized and less compact. Authors didn’t want to be the prophets anymore or to be so direct in giving a message.
But it is also the question of political situation of the time when the movie is presented. For example, in the Academy Award winner Fly (A légy, Ferenc Rofusz, 1980) the protagonist was always interpreted as someone who lives in autocratic or oppressive system and is unsuccessfully trying to escape. It is a metaphor for a totalitarian state. At the end the fly gets out only to become a part of collection. Originally director had a more optimistic end in his mind, more utopist. If you compare this film to Maestro (Géza M. Tóth) from 2004, which was also nominated for the Academy Award, you could say they have a similar storyline and a lot of critics said it could be interpreted as a metaphor or allegory of the soviet state. And probably it would be if it was made before the collapse of the Wall in 1989.
What about the evolution of style in Hungarian animation?
I think Hungarian animation is very much based in graphic art. Also pioneers were originally graphic and poster designers. Of course 2D drawn animation was also the cheapest and production-wise efficient technique. In stop motion is much more work and usually one animator. I would also say that the Hungarian animation is very much based in caricature and comic design, film Concertissimo (Koncertisszimó, József Gémes, 1969) is a fine example of that. It is similar to Zagreb school of animation but it also shares a lot with Polish school, which is a bit more philosophical, dark toned, and not so much into a satire as, for example, Zagreb animation is. Hungarian is a mixture of both – it is satirical, but can also be very depressing, for example Hey, you! (Hé, te!, Péter Szoboszlay, 1976). Film shows how little is needed for aggression to be developed – in the case of the film, being shouted at is enough.
In your research you mainly focus on short film format. Do you prefer it and why?
In animation I do, because animation is stylized and reduced form. It demands a lot of concentration on behalf of the audience to understand the film – first you have to adapt to a certain style and only then you can follow a story. Short film format is dense and compact format, that doesn’t allow artists to over develop the story, to put too much in it. We usually take it as an allegory – we believe there is a bigger story behind it.
You’ve also curated the programme for Best of MOME graduation films. What is the tradition of MOME school?
It’s been the most important school for animation in Hungary since the 80s, but in the past ten years something changed, when József Fülöp became a head of department (now he is the rector of the university). At similar schools in other countries, like Polish National Film School in Lodz or Krakow University, there is this big master who controls all his students in style, storytelling and you can immediately recognize from which school the film comes. At MOME is different because Fülöp is not practicing artist on his own. He puts more effort on producing the movies and helping students to realize their own ideas. It is more about students working together in a system of a workshop and influencing each other.
Which film from this section is your favorite?
I think my favorite one is Volcano Island (Vulkánsziget, Anna Kata Lovrity, 2016). The director uses a metaphor of two tigers to tell this very personal experience of being harassed by an older man. I also like film Hearth (Otthon, Bállint Gelley, 2012). It is a literary adaptation of a Hungarian tale, so maybe people from other nations cannot relate to it in the same way. The way the author changed the storyline into philosophical thought about dying and losing your home, family and roots is very beautiful. It is also a film about floods and I remember that at the time of the premiere there were a lot floods in Hungary and Romania and a lot of people could relate to it.
We had the feeling that all the movies were very depressing and dark. What do you think?
I would say it is also a matter of curating – I could put some more light-hearted films as well. Also with graduation films you must be aware that students usually feel this pressure that they have to do something complex. I think these were some of the strongest films in the history of MOME and therefore the most representative. I don’t think they are all that depressing but they all have some irony in it or some extra layers of interpretation, especially the ones made by female authors.
Could you tell us a bit more about women voice in contemporary Hungarian animation?
Katalin Macskássy made a very powerful animated documentary I Think Life’s Great Fun (Nekem az élet teccik nagyon) in 1975, combining audio interviews with Roma children about their harsh everyday life and their drawings. So already back in the 70s there were strong female voices that were trying to make socially critical films. I have a feeling that women working in animation today are also trying to make a standing point about socially-political context. A lot of them are focused on question about being a women, for example it is very interesting how the character of a cat was important for three of the female authors in the selection of best of MOME graduation films: Volcano Island, Bond (Kötelék, Judit Wunder, 2016), The Noise of Licking (A Nyalintás Nesze, Nadja Andrasev, 2015). They all used a metaphor of a cat to talk about being a female, finding love or being a mum and a lover at the same time. But not all the authors are interested in female themes, for example Réka Bucsi, our biggest star, makes completely different films.
The retrospective of her films will be played at Animateka as well. What makes her such a star?
I think her films are very easy to approach by all of us, they are related to the outer space and in her work you cannot find a specific or historical context, so it can be relatable for anybody. Although she has a very interesting and satirical storytelling and character design, her films are loved by Japanese, French … in US she was even shortlisted for an Oscar. I think that is one of the reasons she is so successful. Her work is very general and funny but also deals with environmental issues. She is not educational but in a way she is still addressing it. But she is not a prophet director like the ones from before.
What about work of Luca Tóth? (She is a jury member this year and her retrospective will be shown as well.)
Her films are interesting, satirical and recognizable; she has a very specific style. For her the social context is important, for example Superbia (2016) is a very feminist film.
Her film and many other films made by female directors in the last ten years in Hungary are about gender issues. Last year the government closed down the Faculty for gender studies, because they’ve decided that it’s not relevant anymore, in this way the feminist films are very important, because they take a standing point and say: “Well, for us it is important!”.
In the end, could you tell us about the PRIMANIMA World Festival of First Animations Hungary.
This year it was the 7th edition. Back in the 2012 we felt that there are so many strong debut animation films that are not recognized by animation festivals and other film festivals in Hungary. So we felt that we should make a scene for them, a separate platform where they would be introduced, to promote their films, because that’s what festivals are about.
We are located outside of Budapest, in a smaller city, which makes the atmosphere of the festival a bit different, so all of the interviews start with a sentence: “Your festival has a very family vibe…” but that doesn’t mean that we are provincial. It’s an international festival, still at least 10 percent of the films are from Hungary. It’s different from Animateka that has only student European films and I think it’s interesting that the students are learning not just about animation but also about what to do at film festivals.
Organizing workshops is also very important and this year it was already a third year that we were able to have an international workshop, where animators and students from abroad create films under the mentorship of master animators. For many years we wanted to invite Špela Čadež, but she’s been too busy. Maybe next year.
Thank you very much!