Oscars: Hungary Celebrates Foreign-Language Win

Son of Saul - H 2015
Courtesy of The Toronto International Film Festival

Media outlets cheer 'Son of Saul,' which went from a "three-page idea to a world success" thanks to the national funding system, its head Andy Vajna says, adding his country provides "great opportunity" for talented directors.

Hungary scored its historic second foreign-language Oscar on Sunday night when Son of Saul won the Academy Award, following its Golden Globe win earlier this year.

Hungarian media lauded the win Monday morning, with daily newspaper Nepszabadsag declaring that the success of Son of Saul meant that the film had "irrevocably entered into film history," starting with winning a grand jury prize in Cannes last year, then the Golden Globes honor and finally an Oscar.

Online news portal Hungary Today noted that the film's "sensational" success also includes Saturday's prize for best international film at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica.

Industry folks also cheered the win. The Oscar accolade for Son of Saul was earned thanks to the support that talented directors receive from the national film fund, its head Andy Vajna told The Hollywood Reporter.

"If you are willing to work hard and have a good, creative idea, then it is possible to make it happen," he said. "This was an example of getting a three-page idea from a director that became a world success. I think it shows to the young people of Hungary that, yes, it is possible to do … I think this is a great opportunity for them."

Vajna carved a career as a Hollywood producer with such films as Rambo and Robocop to his credit before returning to his native Budapest five years ago to take up the role of government commissioner in charge of a new film funding system.

The fund put more than $1 million into Son of Saul, a harrowing depiction of one day in the life of a concentration camp inmate who is forced to help dispose of bodies from gas chambers, after Laszlo Nemes, a first-time feature director, submitted a brief treatment.

"We looked at [Nemes'] short films," said Vajna. "Because it was his first [feature-length] film, we were sort of restrictive in our financing; we gave him 300 million forints, which is about one million Euros, and we supported him and helped him in the development. But when we saw the final product, we were amazed there was nothing to do … it was just right. The movie spoke for itself. I am very proud of Laszlo to be able to create something that went beyond the pages of the script."

Vajna described Hungary's winning the Oscar as "a unique experience."

"The film is fantastic," he said. "For Hungary, it is a unique accomplishment that hasn't happened in the past three decades; the only previous Oscar was for Istzan Szabo's Mephisto in 1981."

Hungary's film fund, which is supported by the proceeds of one of the country's national lotteries, offers filmmakers the chance to begin their careers, added Vajna.

"I have worked in the U.S. for a long time and I know how difficult it is to put together a movie, especially a first film," he said. "In this system in Hungary, it is so easy. It allows you the chance to prove yourself. If you have an idea and a vision and are willing to work hard for it, then it is possible to succeed."

This year, a new plan will be introduced to fully fund five small-budget films by new directors to allow them "to try their hand" and a technical training school for crew will also be set up to help meet demand from international productions that take advantage of Hungary's advanced network of studios and generous tax incentive provisions.

Last year, around $255 million was spent in Hungary on domestic and foreign-film productions. Since the new fund was set up five years ago, Hungarian movies have won more than 130 international awards at festivals, including Kornel Mundruczo's Un Certain Regard win for White God at Cannes and the Crystal Globe at Karlovy Vary for Janos Szasz's The Notebook.