An interview with ZSOLT POZSGAI | DARKING WAY | VMA 2022 | May Edition
The transition from theater to film production can often be truly challenging for a theater director. If in fact theater on the one hand offers direct interaction with the audience but makes actors more vulnerable, filmmaking offers just as many challenges, albeit different ones, made up of framing, sound, and emotional tensions all to be meticulously studied and researched in order to succeed in engaging the audience.
What plays a crucial role in success in both fields turns out to be one: TALENT.
And this is what we will talk about together with Zsolt Pozsgai, who with his long career first in theater and then in filmmaking, has consolidated a certain mastery in both disciplines, ensuring his international success with a variety of works and projects.
Zsolt also distinguished himself here at the Vegas Movie Awards™, winning in the May edition with his project Darking Way, a truly well-crafted Feature film that honors the true story of Hungarian General Ignàk Török.
• Welcome Zsolt, and first of all, congratulations on your impressive wins here at the Vegas Movie Awards™! You are a filmmaker with more than 30 years of career behind you, divided between theatrical, television, and film production and with projects recognized all over Europe. Would you like to tell our audience more about how your career began?
It was already clear in high school that I wanted to write and do theatre and film. I thought that to do that, I should first work in the areas where I could gain the most experience. So I didn't go to university straight away, but started to pursue my childhood dreams. I always dreamed of working in a siren ambulance, helping people. I did that, I worked for the Hungarian ambulance service for several years, I got my degree and I had a lot of experiences. Then I was an operating assistant in a hospital, a gynecologist, I was a bar singer in a nightclub, I ran a village community center, I drove a lorry at the post office, and I taught in a village school. I was a soldier in the air force. All to help me in my later career as an artist. I think I succeeded, I often feel the experiences I had there in my dramas and films. And I wrote, wrote, wrote, drama, screenplays. My works were noticed and applied to professional theatre and film production in Hungary. Since then, my plays have been regularly performed, and for thirty years I have had at least three or four theatre premieres in Hungary or around the world. And for fifteen years it has been the same with films.
• What is the secret that first enabled you to produce over 400 theatrical works, screenplays for TV Series and ultimately films, and then achieve worldwide success with 'Liselotte In May' which has even been translated into 16 languages?
It is creative imagination and obsession. Sometimes you work by instinct, and that's me. In the years of preparation, I collected a lot of subjects, enough for several lifetimes. And every subject brings something to mind. But a subject can be a newspaper article, a personal pain - or simply the face and gaze of a person on the subway when they come across me. At one time I wrote scripts for a series, on my own. It wasn't fashionable then for several writers to work on a series. It was a weekly series, fifty minutes, crime. I wrote 163 scripts, 163 different crime stories. You really needed imagination for that. That's where I started directing, and in many cases, I was allowed to direct what I had written. True, in the theatre I direct my own dramas almost exclusively. When I write, I let go of my instincts, I have the subject matter, I let the characters speak, they start talking, and I write down what they say. And I don't care about clichés, I don't care what they teach you about screenwriting, about playwriting, I think the subject gives the form.
For me, film and play are medicine. To endure everyday doubts and pains. With a positive catharsis that helps me endure the trials of everyday life. That's what I believe in.
• What do you believe makes your style instantly recognizable to audiences?
In Hungary, I've developed a style of writing that many people like, and I'm happy to say that there are many people who are now my regular audience. The same is true in Bulgaria, my second country, where I also direct a lot or teach at the art university there. What makes you recognizable? Perhaps the humanism. That I have an infinite love for people. That I think the way to express the modern age in theatre and film is a tragicomedy, the absurd. These must be mixed with realistic elements. The 21st century is so complex and contradictory and absurd that it must be reflected in art. Tragedy and comedy go hand in hand, we cannot decide whether to laugh or cry at a situation. But no matter what kind of work you create - film, musical, tragedy - there has to be catharsis, in my work positive catharsis. Because there is negative catharsis. There are artists who depict horror with means that are difficult to endure. For example, the Cannes Film Festival, which ended a few days ago, was an example of this: many people were unable to watch films that depicted brutality in its fullness. I am not like that, I could not make a film like that. For me, film and play are medicine. To endure everyday doubts and pains. With a positive catharsis that helps me endure the trials of everyday life. That's what I believe in.
• We know that you personally direct many of your plays abroad as well: what have been your difficulties in a 30-year career and what, on the other hand, have been the moments that have pleased you the most?
The greatest happiness is to know that I can create works that are not only valid in my country. Indeed, I have directed many of my dramas all over the world, and my next one is in London. And I am delighted that I have managed to write something that is valid everywhere, regardless of nationality or country. That, for example, my latest film, Darking Way, is as much appreciated in Florida as it is in Nepal. And the difficulties are there to be overcome, I don't care about that. On the set of one of my films, a very popular Hungarian actor said: 'I'm like a kid in a toy shop when I'm directing'. Yes, it is easier to overcome all difficulties with a child's spirit.
• When did your love for filmmaking break out and what were the things that excited you so much that you made it your second job besides theater?
During the scriptwriting process, a director once said that he thought I could really direct a script he had written, not him. And he gave me the directing as a wonderful gift. It was my first big film, with a big budget, shot on Kodak stock, with wonderful actors. So at the start, I had everything I needed to make the film the way I wanted it to be. And after that, I stayed an independent filmmaker. I don't like to argue with producers about casting if I believe in the talent of an actor. I don't like to be interfered with the vision I have instinctively dreamed up. I don't like pointless rules. That's why I'm usually the producer of my films. This is true creative freedom. True, you can't get rich that way. I'm not involved in the kind of production circles where they divide billions between themselves and don't really care about the film itself. You can't get rich, but you don't have the kind of riches that can match human freedom. That's what I think. To live and die free, that's what I like. To live as a slave... not my world. And professional film around the world prefers to employ slaves rather than creative artists.
• Coming from theater did you find difficulties with the transition to filmmaking?
No, because theatre and film have a lot to do with each other. Both condense reality. It condenses history, and lives, into two hours. In the same way that a poem condenses a whole world into two lines. For me, film and drama are poetry. The fact that I started in the theatre has obviously meant that in my films I try to unfold the acting rather than the spectacle. I like to walk in the world of the soul rather than the world of the spectacle. The difference is that theatre can always be improved, it is a living art form. Once I shoot a film, it's hard to improve anything. So it requires much more preparation and concentration.
• Even with your film career you have been quite successful both in Hungary and on the international film festival circuit, such as with 'THE DEVOTED' also finding distribution in the US and Canada. What has it meant to you to be able to extend your success overseas and reach audiences other than the theater you have always been accustomed to?
It was surprising to me that the last film, Darking Way, won awards on all continents, but mainly in North America. Kansas, California, Nevada, Florida, and the rest... I never thought a film about a Hungarian historical figure could be so successful. Our previous film, THE DEVOTED, also won a lot of awards everywhere, but the international story, the story of Calvin, the founder of the Reformation, is known worldwide. And because we won so many best actor or best acting team awards, I think the talented acting, the director's acting, must be the reason why so many people love the film. And that's my intention too, as I consider the acting to be the priority in all my films.
• With Darking Way, your latest film and the one with which you won at the Vegas Movie Awards™ in May, you have won over 100 awards from Nepal to the U.S. What, in your opinion, made a story of Hungarian Patriotism so successful?
There has been a struggle for freedom in the history of every country. The heroes of freedom are present in the memory of every nation. Freedom is the need of every human being, like air, essential to existence. And there is more to it than that, it is not the hero of freedom as a martyr that is interesting, it is the fact that on the night before his execution he is confronted with a very bad decision in his life. And this realization kills him before he even reaches the gallows. And this is a human story that can be understood and lived everywhere.
• How did the idea of telling the story of Ignák Török come about and what difficulties did you find, being based on real historical events, while researching sources?
Many films are made about real historical figures. And because it is a feature film, it cannot be held to account for its full historical authenticity. Those are documentaries. In feature films, there is the possibility to treat historical facts according to the intention of the film. But it's forbidden to lie in the process. It is forbidden to state untruths. But the imagination is still free to work. I have written and directed a lot of historical dramas. For example, I just presented a new drama about the political regime change in Hungary in 1990, when communism ended. It is a drama with two characters, one of whom is the then 28-year-old Viktor Orbán, who is now the prime minister of Hungary at the age of 58. And I wrote the stage version of my youthful self. It's quite a success in Budapest now, and it's caused quite a stir. And although the story is entirely fictional, the current Prime Minister himself has not questioned its authenticity. This, for example, is an interesting situation.
• One last question, Zsolt. What are your upcoming professional projects and where can our readers find them?
I have more work in the pipeline at the Hungarian Film Institute, so I can't complain. But as always, as a child with a dream, I want to make a film that I believe in and for which I am looking for an international partner, a producer, and a film company. A two-hour dance film. THE BIRTH OF EROTIC, that's the title. I would very much like to show in an ancient society, when the process of becoming human began, how the culture of eroticism, sex, and love developed. How the instinct to preserve species became something much more, much more human, much more interesting. We learned in school that man was raised out of the animal world by work. Are you sure that's all? I think the realization that there is attraction to each other, love, truly happy sexual intercourse in love - that is as specific to man as work. And I am sure that the first such manifestation in that ancient society had its enemies. The revolution in eroticism and love certainly did not come easily and without sacrifice. I want to bring it to film with international dancers and the best choreographers. Does anyone know anyone who might be interested? If so, please give my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find me here. Let's dream together.
• Thank you for being here with us, dear Zsolt, and for taking us inside your wonderful success story. Is there anyone last you would like to thank?
Human relationships, friendships, and love, all give something to each other to make us more, happier. Thank you to everyone who has given me something to build on.
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