08 February 2018

Rebuilding the Moral Firewall – Behind 'Genesis'

After 11 years Árpád Bogdán comes back to Berlin to premiere his new feature, Genesis, in Panorama Special. With his producer Andrea Taschler, they are committed to dealing with important social questions via magical realism.

Árpád, it was 11 years ago that your first film Happy New Life debuted at Berlinale. What have you been up to since then?

Árpád Bogdán: First and foremost, I have been preparing my second film, The Necromancer (Halottlátó), in which we have invested an enormous amount of energy and time, five or maybe even six years. Necromancer was intended to be a magical realism thriller about Romani people who are capable of seeing the ‘other side’. I wanted to show this world set in an urban environment, just as mythology meets urban social romanticism on a particular dissecting table. For a while it seemed like this would happen, but with the collapse of the previous film financing system I also fell a little apart, which I believe was not unique at the time. I wallowed in self-pity for a while, and sometimes I managed to get out of it. During that time, I wrote my short stories, tales and poems, and once in a while I also wrote a script. They already had some motifs that would eventually show up in the script for Genesis. While writing the script, I made a feature-length documentary about a boxer called Ghetto Balboa. We are currently in post-production for the film at Focusfox studio. Beside Genesis, this is the other piece of work that I’m really proud of.

What inspired you to make Genesis?

Á.B.: The series of attacks against the Romani community back in 2008-2009 was both shocking and terrifying. I knew right away that I had to do something with it as a screenwriter and director. But not then, and not immediately. So I made a documentary for the BBC about the attacks, which made me feel very unpleasant because I felt like I was exploiting the grief of these people. I felt ashamed, because asking them questions I was opening up wounds that were not even so old. The respect and the compassion that I felt for them became a sad shadow cast behind a theatre stage. I needed time to comprehend and assess this unprecedented act of terror, while also trying to find an answer. Beyond the sheer hate and racism, I felt a somewhat apocalyptic or biblical presence behind these events. The attacks were unimaginable for me in a Europe after WWII.

There is something very primal that stayed with us after the moment of creation; this godly precipitation. Evil doesn’t need any motivation to show its true face, neither now nor then. I saw the unbearable darkness of this evil in the eyes of the victims; they had seen it. That evil will now stay with them forever. They can’t go back and unsee what they saw. It was there among the flames, in the sounds of the gunshots, in the helpless precipitation in the fingers on the trigger and in the looks that sometimes flashed through their hoods. And yes, it was in the silence: standing in between the killers and the victims, there was an indifferent country that remained silent.

I don’t believe that these attacks only changed the lives of the Roma people who were involved in them. This tragedy is not only theirs; it is also yours. It’s theirs; it’s ours. We need to find a moral firewall somewhere within ourselves. A firewall that can be rebuilt after it has collapsed. I have to believe that this firewall can be rebuilt. Genesis is about this attempt.

Árpád Bodgán: Genesis

Andrea, you graduated as a dramatic advisor at the University of Theatre and Film Arts. How did you become a producer?

Andrea Taschler: I was only 18 when I applied to the university, which was highly competitive. I was good in writing, full of ambition, and the only thing I knew that I wanted to study art. They took me for first try, and I was the youngest in my class. Later I was invited to work at the Katona József Theatre, the most famous theatre companies in Hungary. I spent three years there, but I knew that theatre was not my place. Around the same time Katapult Film was founded and producer Iván Angelusz invited me to start working together. The first film that I was in charge with was ‘White Palms’, and every experienced filmmaker told us that it would be impossible to make it on such a low budget with such high ambitions. But we didn’t care about conventions, and it became a beautiful and important piece for Hungarian film. I found myself under the influence of this new world of cinema, and I participated in several projects with high artistic value and limited financial conditions, it was a good school of filmmaking attitude. But I had different ideas about producing, therefore I began to attend international producer’s workshops and trainings, and in 2010 I created my own production company with Szabolcs Hajdu, Nándor Lovas and Péter Réti called Mirage Film Studio. That company ended in tragic circumstances, which influenced even the development of Genesis. The films I’m currently producing are made through its successor company.

Did you use your knowledge in dramaturgy when producing Genesis?

A.T.: I don’t think it’s a good idea to mix this with my work as a producer. Still, I love getting involved in the script development. It’s important to discuss the ideas in order to come up with the final version of the story together with the director. During the development of Genesis I spent a lot of time with Árpád, which resulted in a close professional relationship. It was inspiring to work together, since that’s the kind of working style I love: a prolific associative work that also uses a lyrical voice, which is Árpád’s forte.


What was the greatest challenge you faced as a producer while working on Genesis?

A.T.: The subject itself. How can we approach people with a beautifully executed work of auteur cinema when moviegoers tend to avoid heavier content? I believe that art in all times most importantly must ask the right questions and should make people stay alert and pay attention. Just what the right question is, that is changing every time.

Genesis deals with one of the most important issues of nowadays. The world is full of violence and dangerous political game, and society is full of unhappy and burnt out people who feel unable to change not the world, but their life. Our film shows how it is possible on a personal level to influence things. The characters in Genesis are all average people from different social classes whose lives have been changed by terrible tragedies. Nevertheless, they are able to take control of their fates and to take brave decisions in critical moments, and these decisions also affect the lives of others in a positive way. It has nothing to do with power or money. The subject of our film is symbolic, and eternal, it is about the responsibility of the individual over the society.

We see both professional and amateur actors alike. Can you tell us about the casting? How did you find your protagonists?

Á.B.: We should give credit to Mark Zuckerberg, who invented Facebook, since Milán came of his own accord. We even placed an ad through it, and Milán’s mum told us that he picked the job offer and told her “I’m interested in this”. So they had no choice but to hop in their car and come to the casting. When I saw him I knew that he was exactly who I was looking for: a sensitive and intelligent doe-eyed kid. Finding the actor for the role of the teenage girl was the hardest, though. We never have any trouble finding girls between the ages of 16 and 20, who all want to become actresses, but teenagers are more difficult. The person we finally settled on came in at the very last moment to one of my castings outside of Budapest. She was exactly whom I had written in the script. The only one whom I saw and knew right away would be perfect as Anna Marie.

The film centers on different people who all live in a different social stratum, but all in broken families. Beyond the attacks against the Roma, which had happened in real life, what else connects these people?

Á.B.: They are connected by the above mentioned firewall that we all have inside of us. The film compels us to take a moment for self-reflection and to find the inner good in ourselves as well as our belief in the world, no matter how banal it might sound. To believe in life is the only way to fight the evil and hopelessness. All three stories are an awakening and a way to start over, which requires great courage. All of the three persons are very vulnerable, and want something that is lost. They want to find it and start over, no matter how hard  that might be. This may sound idealistic, but I believe in it.

Árpád Bodgán: Genesis

The script was well received at the ScriptEast workshop, and I’m sure it went through the usual script development process within the Hungarian Film Fund. Did it prove to be useful for the script?

Á.B.: It did, although not during every stage of the script’s development. We had a lot of reflection and criticism, but if a writer is unsure about what they want to say, they might just get dissolved like an effervescent tablet. Any criticism, if it comes from the right experts, can be very important, even if we only end up using two things from the 10 notes that we receive. Luckily enough, though, neither the Film Fund nor ScriptEast was strongly insisting on the remaining eight things, which actually proves that they all respected the artist in me.

Both fire and water have an integral role in the film’s visuals. While the film is very much about the here and now, did you try to include some elements of magical realism?

Á.B.: The central motif in my first film was the womb. For me, in an urban setting, the womb is symbolized by the bathroom.  When somebody goes underwater in the bathtub, they seek the same silence they were accustomed to before being born, in order to return to their very first moment of being. I grew up among tales. In my foster home everyone brought their own superstitions and scary tales from their own broken families: vampires wearing capes who run around on the rooftops and steal babies; thieves who move silently with silver knives in their hand; old witches who are chained to age-old trees at the edge of the world and guarded by white dogs; or fairies who live underwater, and so on.

Dániel Deák