Film Series / Events

Search All Film Series (1999-present)
Browse All Film Series

April 11 - 13

Péter Forgács and the Re-Orchestration of History

"I am using the ordinary language of photography and film to find in banality, the sacred." – Péter Forgács

The history of the 20th century is stockpiled with cinematic images, not only those shot by newsreel cameramen and journalists but also by amateurs. It is from these private, often overlooked images that Péter Forgács draws the footage that he uses to re-present the history of Europe in the last century: not the official version, but history as it was lived. "I am not a historian," Forgács has said. "I am interested in the psychoanalysis of history." Just as for Freud such seemingly insignificant things as dreams, jokes and slips of the tongue could reveal the life of the mind, for Forgács, the images of amateur filmmakers reveal the complexities and slippages that recorded history either smoothes out or ignores. Forgács has referred to his work as "re-orchestrating history," taking up the large events of twentieth-century Europe but presenting them anew, from the point of view of daily life rather than the actions of famous and powerful figures.

Born in Hungary in 1950, Forgács has made more than thirty films since beginning in 1978. In 1983, he established the Private Photo & Film Archives Foundation in Budapest, a collection of more than three hundred hours of amateur film shot in Hungary. Forgács made his reputation with a series of films from this footage called Private Hungary, but his international profile has led him to make films using images from other countries as well. Again and again, Forgács returns to the central trauma of World War II, as his films seek to reclaim the record of life in modern Europe from the shadows of Nazism and Stalinism.

Forgács' constant collaborator is Tibor Szemzö, a composer Forgács met in the milieu that formed in Budapest around conceptual art and minimalist music in the 1970s. It was this milieu that provided the context for Forgács' beginnings as a filmmaker, as well as a wide range of influences from Freud to Luis Buñuel to Robert Wilson.

Special thanks to Gábor Kovács, Hungary Cultural Center, New York and the Kokkalis Program, John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Special Event Tickets $10
There will be a conversation with Péter Forgács and Susan Rubin Suleiman Between the Films

Friday April 11 at 7pm

The Danube Exodus

Directed by Péter Forgács, Appearing in Person with Susan Rubin Suleiman
Hungary/Netherlands 1998, video, color, 60 min.

Forgács compiled The Danube Exodus from original amateur 8mm
footage taken by Nándor Andrásovits (1894-1958), a riverboat captain who documented his voyages along the Danube as he transported Eastern European Jewish refugees to safety in Palestine in 1939, and then Bessarabian Germans who had fled back to the Reich from the Soviet invasion of Bessarabia to resettlement on land confiscated in occupied Poland in 1940. The film is set to the ethereal soundscape of composer Tibor Szemzö, while the juxtaposition of each of the two voyages complicates the reactions a spectator might have to each voyage separately.

The Maelstrom: A Family Chronicle

Directed by Péter Forgács, Appearing in Person
Hungary/Netherlands 1997, video, color, 60 min.

The Maelstrom follows the Peerebooms, a Jewish Dutch family, through the 1930s and into the 1940s via the home movies of one of the sons, Max. With the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the film shifts to compare the fortunes of the Peerebooms to those of the (Austrian) family of Reich Commissioner for The Netherlands Arthur Seyss-Inquart. Information is conveyed through subtitles; instead of voice-over, the soundtrack consists of period sound, usually from radio broadcasts, and a brooding, disturbing jazz score by Tibor Szemzö. The Maelstrom shows a Jewish family living at first unknowingly in the shadow of the Holocaust, and then trying to cope with their predicament while still unaware of what it will ultimately mean.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Special Event Tickets $10
Saturday April 12 at 7pm

Wittgenstein Tractatus

Directed by Péter Forgács, Appearing in Person
Hungary 1992, video, color, 35 min.

Wittgenstein Tractatus is Forgács' tribute to Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The film is made up of seven short sections, each relating to one of Wittgenstein's philosophical propositions, as home movies from early 20th century Europe are accompanied by voiceovers and text from the Tractatus. Wittgenstein's thesis that the world is made up of a series of interconnected atomic facts is a crucial influence on Forgács' use of montage to connect found footage from home movies. The compilation of snippets of daily life echoes the oracular aphorisms of Wittgenstein's text.

Meanwhile Somewhere…1940-43

Directed by Péter Forgács, Appearing in Person
Hungary 1994, video, color, 52 min.

Meanwhile Somewhere juxtaposes vignettes from daily life in Europe during World War II. These vignettes in turn are composed around recurring footage from the ritual humiliation of a German soldier and a young Polish woman being punished for their romance. In an excellent example of Forgács' re-orchestration of history, the montage forces the viewer to confront questions about the relationship between individual existence and the historical events that happen while daily life continues.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Special Event Tickets $10
Sunday April 13 at 3pm

Angelos' Film

Directed by Péter Forgács, Appearing in Person
Hungary/Netherlands 1999, video, color, 60 min..

A wealthy monarchist filming in Athens during the Fascist occupation, Angelos Papanastassiou used his camera to document an occupation he detested as an affront to Greek sovereignty. Using a clandestine 16mm film camera and daily risking his own life, and the lives of his family, Papanastassiou documented Nazi atrocities in Athens throughout the German-Italian occupation, during which time his daughter, Loukia, was born. We follow her first steps and see the family's life juxtaposed over this tragic chapter of modern Greek history.

A Bibó Reader (Bibó Breviárium)

Directed by Péter Forgács, Appearing in Person
Hungary 2001, 35mm, color, 69 min.

István Bibó (1911-1979) is widely regarded as the greatest political thinker of 20th century Hungary. During the Hungarian Revolution, he acted as the Minister of State, for which he was sentenced to life in prison after the Soviets restored Communist rule; he was later released as part of a general amnesty. Forgács provides an introduction to his life and work using processed found footage shot by contemporary amateur filmmakers in Hungary. A Bibó Reader is part 13 of Private Hungary.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top
Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700