Standing Out From The Mainstream – Interview with Tamás Patrovits and Csaba Vágó

Animation film director, graphic artist, art educator, Primanima founder and director Tamás Patrovict and head of the mayor’s cabinet in Budaörs Csaba Vágó share their thoughts on the occasion of the festival’s 10th anniversary.

It is an anniversary for Primanima, which has been held in Budaörs from the very beginning. What does this event mean to the city?

Csaba: When I learned about this year being the 10th anniversary, the first thing I thought about was, “How could it be only the 10h?” I think that describes perfectly what this festival means to Budaörs. It has become an emblematic event in the life of the city.

What are your memories of the first festival?

Tamás: At the beginning, none of us knew what to expect, we just experimented. We wanted to create a festival for young talents. At first I did not think we could achieve so much, especially that the festival could keep going for ten years. At the first festival, we projected the films onto the wall of the City Hall, but it was still a huge thing that an animation event could be realized three years after launching the animation programme of the “Illyés Gyula Secondary School in Budaörs” (Illyés Gyula Gimnázium és Szakgimnázium) I believe we were lucky that the city was open for this idea too, and this openness has even increased since then. The city of Budaörs is exceptional in Hungary in that it gave an opportunity for an initiative of such humble beginnings.

Csaba: The first festival, which was still a little clumsy to be honest, had such a friendly and pleasant atmosphere already. I’m trying to identify the moment or turning point when Primanima suddenly stepped to the next level: maybe it was in 2015, when we had to help with receiving ten Taiwanese students and their teacher who came last minute. As I recall, it was then that I first felt that the festival is really starting to become a truly international event in animation circles.

The students from Taiwan with their teacher, Hui-ching Tseng in the company of sound designer, Andrea Martignoni.

Does Primanima have an impact on the life of Budaörs?

Tamás: The goal of the Primanima team is to have Primanima grow beyond a four-day-long festival. I feel that founding BABtér in 2016 was an important milestone in the life of the festival too. Besides being the office where the festival is organized, the Budaörs Animation Base and Creative Space also functions as a cultural centre that is open all year round. In 2018, film director György Pálos jokingly told us that the atmosphere of BABtér is a little bit like being in Vienna, and that he doesn’t understand how this is allowed in Hungary.

Csaba: I don’t think that is surprising in Budaörs at all. Budaörs stands out of the increasingly rigid Hungarian political and cultural mainstream, and it openly claims that it doesn’t want to conform to it at all. I think that could also be the answer to the question of why Primanima is held in Budaörs.

Tamás: I would like to add that I consider it our mission to invite Hungarian students from the surrounding countries, as in Romania, for instance, tertiary animation courses became available only recently. So I hope that Primanima could also serve as a meeting of Hungarian students from Hungary and beyond.

What role could art have in education?

Tamás: Due to my occupation and qualifications, I evidently believe that arts are strongly needed in life.

The drawing and art education has disappeared completely, in fact it has never worked too well in public education institutions, despite the abundance of visual messages bombarding us every day.

As art educators, it is also our job to help the next generation understand the media and be more aware of empty political slogans, so they cannot be deceived and driven in this or that direction so easily.

Csaba: The current Hungarian school system does not support the idea of having students use their own imagination in class. In many cases, it requires the students to learn an unreasonable amount of lexical knowledge, which will not help them be more successful on the labour market. I agree with Tamás in thinking that the relationship of politics and art is of key importance.

Politics should respect the necessary autonomy of cultural professionals—if people involved in public life do not have proper self-restraint regarding this (too), a commission-based cultural life could become the norm.

Budaörs provides the operational requirements of its education and cultural institutions, but we definitely do not and must not influence matters of content. How could we? Why would I tell anyone what Primanima should look like or what play a theatre can add to its programme? It would be a huge and dangerous confusion of roles.

How did the pandemic affect the festival?

Tamás: You have to start organizing festivals a year before the actual event: you have to call for entries, select the films, produce promotional materials and so on. Like all other festival organizers, we also worked in this period not knowing whether the event can be held at the end or not. Unfortunately, the festival had to be cancelled in 2020, and the pandemic had an impact on last year’s edition as well. But I hope that the audience of our sold-out festival three years ago will return this year.

Csaba: As much as I favour live events and personal meetings, I think it could be useful for the future to consider making Primanima also available in the form of a live stream, even if just as a necessary precaution.

The Award Ceremony at the 10th edition of Primanima festival

What was your first experience with animation?

Tamás: I started doing animation because I loved cartoons. Not just one, but all of them. And I felt that it is the coolest thing if you can make them yourself.

Csaba: Probably the TV Teddy (an iconic stop-motion animation that introduced the bedtime stories on Hungarian public television every night for over three decades—ed.). It is still a dear memory for many people from the time when there were only one or two television channels, and you simply wouldn’t miss it regardless of your age.

Is it still widely believed by people that animation is only for children?

Csaba: I also used to connect the world of animation primarily to cartoons and children’s films. It was Primanima that made me realize that animation is also an opportunity to go beyond physical limitations and to convey messages similar to those of live-action feature films for adults too.

Tamás: I believe every animation festival organizer in the world feels that it is their responsibility to emphasize that animation is not only for children. It is a constant struggle, because television channels have children’s animations in their programme almost exclusively, even though there are so many animations about contemporary topics out there for adults. But animations for adults are not really supported in Hungary, only the films made for children. State institutions are usually very loud and proud about how many animation films they have supported recently, but they tend to not talk about how these are not so much in the category of original shorts for adults giving a complex perspective of our lives, but only innocent children’s stories. Not to mention that in the past ten to fifteen years animated documentaries also became popular, through which personal journals and family stories are shared—and the pointed promotion of these is also missing from the Hungarian scene. And let us not talk about the fact that it is close to impossible to get funding for non-narrative animation films, despite animation being not only a genre of film but art too.

Could you tell us about a memorable Primanima experience of yours from the past 10 years?

Csaba: There is no way I could pick a single one, and it would be unfair to do so anyway. But I can tell you that I had a fantastic time whenever I dropped by an end-of-the-day party—which always reminded me of the underground parties of the ‘80s—during the festival after a long, tiring day spent working.

Tamás: For me, the greatest experience every year is the moment when the festival “starts to work”. When I see the curious crowds arrive, watch the films, and then have long, almost euphoric conversations and debates about them—when I see animation bringing new life and new energy to the community.

Student groups attending the 10th Primanima in BABtér
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