Berlin: Hungary Thinking Local With New National Film Institute

Szilvi Csibi
Csaba Kael

'We have to take Central European stories more seriously,” says Csaba Kael, chairman of the re-branded national film body. “We have to tell stories about our lives.”

Hungary is turning inward with its National Film Institute, a new government body set up last month to oversee public financing for Hungarian films and co-productions. Cultural manager, opera and film director Csaba Kael was appointed the first chairman of the institute alongside his role as government commissioner for the development of the Hungarian film industry.

He is looking to fill the big shoes left empty when Hollywood producer and former Hungarian film commissioner Andy Vajna died early last year.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive interview, Kael outlined his plans for the institute and its $54 million annual budget. He said the country should focus on more stories addressing the life, history and culture of Hungary and Central Europe. "We have to take Central European co-productions more seriously, we have a common culture and history to build upon, we have to tell stories about our lives," he said. Kael noted that Hungary wanted to strengthen ties with its Central European neighbors through more co-productions.

Hungarian history will also be a focus. In a recent interview with in-house publication the Hungarian Film Magazine, Kael noted that Hungarian cinema "hasn’t produced a good movie about the First World War, the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, the 1989-1990 regime change or even about the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. We’d like to change that and provide an opportunity for filmmakers to reflect on our history and national heroes on certain anniversaries."

How Hungarian history is portrayed could be a touchy subject. Vajna was criticized for his close connection to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a right-wing nationalist leader. Kael, who was appointed by Orban as government commissioner, insists the National Film Institute "works independently."

Kael has unified all of Hungary's film and television financing bodies under one room in the National Film Institute, which will be a one-stop-shop for film, TV, documentaries and series. The institute plans to launch its own VOD platform to promote and distribute Hungarian works and to do community outreach, pushing for visual arts and film modules to be introduced in schools and for film clubs to be set up across the country.

But while thinking locally, Kael is quick to assure international producers that Budapest is still open for their business, saying: "We continue to welcome international productions with our unique locations, highly skilled and enthusiastic professionals, high-profile studios and current 30 percent tax rebate, the first of its kind in the region."