It takes strong inner integrity to be steady when uncertainty surrounds us – Interview with Ábel Visky

Film director who studied at the Sapientia University of Cluj-Napoca and the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest. His first feature-length creative documentary, ‘Tales from the Prison Cell’, brought him international and national recognition on the professional scene. He is currently making an extraordinary documentary about the world-famous fairy tale writer Veronika Marék. He told us about the differences between filmmaking education in Transylvania and Hungary from the student and teacher perspectives, his formative Disney film experiences as a child, and the diverse influences of his family background on his adult life.

This year you’re participating in Primanima as a member of the Masters Competition jury, how often do you watch animations? In a previous interview you’ve mentioned that ‘Lion King’ and the tales of Veronika Marék had a big influence on you as a child. How did animation get into your life, when did you start to become interested in it as a creator? In your documentary, ‘Tales from the Prison Cell’ you also use the genre of animation.

The 'Lion King' was a really defining experience as a child, but so were other Disney tales, the great escape scene from the collapsing treasure cave in 'Aladdin', or the shivery atmosphere of 'Ariel'. As an adult, I started watching animation again because of the animation successes of my generation. We have a long-standing friendship with Kata Lovrity, the creator of 'Volcano Island', which debuted at the Berlinale, and together with Petra Marjai they made the animated short film for our film 'Tales from the Prison Cell', and we will work together on our upcoming film, as well.

Currently you are working on a portrait film on Veronika Marék, titled ‘Need a Lion’. What proportion of documentary and fiction/animation will be mixed in this film?

It will basically be a documentary, but a new Veronika Marék story will be made in parallel with the filming, and we will partly adapt it with animation techniques.

Have you thought about making a fully animated movie?

No, but it's great that there are talented creators in Hungary with whom I can collaborate and incorporate animation in my work.

At this year's Primanima, you'll be giving a masterclass as well as jurying, and you have taught several courses at BABtér (Budaörs Animation Base and Creative Space) art preparatory courses. Where are you teaching currently?

I teach filmmaking and directing at the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, and I also have classes at Sapientia.

Ábel Visky and Melinda Kiss during jurying at the 11th Primanima

Why is it important to you to mentor young creators? What do you see as the challenges facing young people who want to enter the field of filmmaking?

It feels good to think with them about their plans, and I often feel that I can be more creative in my teaching than in developing my own plans.

Basically, I don't see myself as a teacher who wants to share his knowledge, but rather as a teacher who wants to create a medium in which they can find a film language form and a suitable dramaturgical structure for their ideas.

There are challenges because nothing can guarantee that the energy invested in a film project will actually achieve its goal. In this genre, you often have to work in such a way that the outcome is completely uncertain, and it often happens that after years of free work, a project falls through and is never completed. It takes strong inner integrity to be steady when uncertainty surrounds us.  And the humbleness to take fundraising jobs seriously.

Ábel Visky on his Q&A at the 11th Primanima

How do you think it was different when you were learning filmmaking, if it was different at all?

When I first studied filmmaking at Sapientia in Cluj-Napoca, we were still shooting on mini DV cassettes, which resulted in low-quality video, no depth of field or angles of view, and the easy, ubiquitous camera movement tools like the gimbal today were completely unavailable. But in return, perhaps, more attention was paid to dramaturgy, and the shortcomings in storytelling were less obscured by good-looking images.

Today, it is relatively cheap to get the technology to capture high quality moving images, and sometimes I see that this can lead to laziness in storytelling for students.

But there are examples of the opposite, with increased technical possibilities leading to a much richer playing field for visual experimentation, which is great and something many people can take advantage of.

Werk photo with Ábel Visky from the shooting of 'Tales from the Prison Cell'

You attended SZFE (University of Theatre and Film Arts) before its change in Ildikó Enyedi's class. Before that you graduated from the Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania in Cluj-Napoca with a degree in film directing. How do you see the potential of film education in Transylvania and Hungary?

After Sapientia, I attended the BA education in directing in the class of Attila Janisch and János Szász, and then Ildikó Enyedi was my head of class in the master's course. This was an exciting change compared to Transylvania, in the 6x6 system at the SZFE, classes in the basic areas of filmmaking were held in parallel, and our exam films were made together with students of cinematography, scriptwriting, sound engineering, editing and production management. That in itself was a great advantage, and our teachers added a lot to it, because the system here allowed them to be more personal and direct with our work than in Cluj-Napoca.

At the same time, I am also very grateful for my years at Sapientia, where my interest and sensitivity to the borderlands of documentary and fiction was founded. I cannot speak in general terms about film education in Hungary, but I find the way in which the model has been changed very upsetting and undignified. So I encourage all students interested in filmmaking to come and study in Transylvania, for example, Gábor Reisz is a colleague of mine at Babes, who recently won an important award in Venice for his latest film, made without state support and with a minimal budget – I would love to take his classes.

Your short film, 'Family Film', shows the sensitive family you grew up in and the close relationship you have with them. How much of your receptivity to art do you think comes from your family background and how much from your own search for your own path?

My family background is certainly very influential in the filter through which I see the world, the issues, themes and human situations I am susceptible to all come from there. It is still a solid ground for me, not only as an artist, but also as a personal, private person.

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