Ildikó Enyedi Talks Process and Precision in Shanghai Festival Masterclass

Hungarian director and screenwriter Ildikó Enyedi brought some art-house royalty to the Shanghai International Film Festival this week with a masterclass that focused on her process and the struggle to maintain a unique voice.

At one point in her on-stage discussion with Chinese director Zheng Dasheng, she called filmmaking “essentially a sole desperate cry, hoping to be heard by others.”

Enyedi’s voice has certainly registered and been heard at Europe’s major film festivals. She won the Camera d’Or in Cannes in 1989 for best debut feature “My 20th Century,” saw her 1994 film “Magic Hunter” play in competition in Venice and she won the top prize Golden Bear in Berlin in 2017 with “On Body and Soul.”

Her subjects have ranged from music (“Simon, the Magician”) to the human condition in its dry absurdity (“On Body and Soul”), to Stasi agents in the old East Germany (TV series “Balaton Brigade”). But her process is wide-ranging and far from direct and does not always start with a narrative idea.

Instead, she allows the “many urgent and complex questions” in her mind to roam free and compete for her attention. Comparing herself to a sponge of ideas, Enyedi seeks a mass of stories with questions and seeks to present some of those questions to the audience – often only completing the narrative structure at the end, she explained.

With “My 20th Century,” she wanted to explore questions revolving around art, the human condition, and human history, she told the Shanghai audience.

Enyedi put emphasis on self-expression and self-belief, as well as disciplined use of the available filmmaking tools. “You must express yourself well, ensuring good use of the medium of film to communicate your message,” she said at one stage. And also added that a director needs to articulate the points they are making, convey their beliefs sincerely, and then wait for the audience to catch up.

But she also added a need to be able to brush aside criticism. “One should dismiss the fear that your expressions may fall upon indifferent ears. Believe in your conviction; otherwise, no one will be convinced by your work, because you can’t even convince yourself,” she told Zheng.
Enyedi admitted to being “tortured” during the shooting of “My 20th Century,” but said that she never doubted her ability to complete it.

Now, with more titles to her credit, she is able to take even fuller control of the filmmaking process and, once a budget is signed off, to be as responsible as possible for financial control. “I am responsible and serious because I am extremely grateful that [the investors] let me direct and give me the power of control. However, within the budget, everything is decided by me,” she said – cast, editing and story.

Zheng quizzed Enyedi on issues of style – poetic and making careful use of light – and her preferred working relationships. While explaining that she seeks a cinematographer who will not impose their own style, and that other crew should not be too dogmatic, Enyedi insisted that on-set she is no dictator. “The director is not a superior patriarch, not a magician, and won’t wave a wand to make them obedient like children,” she said and backed up her argument by explaining that she has worked with one particular director of cinematography on three occasions and re-teamed on an academic project.

The session did not get into Enyedi’s upcoming projects. She is reported to be attached to a pilot episode of the TV series “Angel’s Trumpets” (Angyaltrombiták). The bloody and humorous revenge story was written by Katalin Besenyei, who pitched it at the Hypewriter TV Series Pitch Forum in 2021 to a jury that had Enyedi among its members. And at the Cannes Market, last month Enyedi-project “Silent Friend” was being pitched. Being produced by Reinhard Brundig, Nicolas Elghozi and Monika Mecs from Pandora Film, Galatée Films and Inforg-M&M Film), the proposed piece is a triptych of stories spanning more than a century and told from the perspective of a lonely old tree standing in the middle of a botanical garden.

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