The Los Angeles Hungarian Film Festival brings the best of Hungarian cinema to the US.


As a child growing up in Budapest, a city that would become known as the “Hollywood of the Danube,” Béla Bunyik dreamed of appearing in movies. “I fell in love with Hungarian cinema back in the 1950s,” says Bunyik. Variety. “When I was 12 years old, I started working as an extra in some movies…. In 1953, I spent an entire summer with a group of children and some of the best Hungarian actors of the time.”

He remembers being picked up after school by talent scouts and learning on the sets of films such as Viktor Gertler’s 1954 adventure comedy “Me and My Grandfather.” “Watching a movie being made was very exciting for me and I was sad when the summer ended and the movie was closed,” he says. But those formative years sparked an obsession that would last a lifetime. “I got hooked”.

Bunyik would later emigrate to the United States, found a production and distribution company, and co-found the Los Angeles Hungarian Film Festival with his late wife, Bonnie Anderle Bunyik. As the festival prepares to launch its 21st edition, which will be held from October 27 to November 2 at the Laemmle Monica Film Center, Bunyik, who recently turned 85, says he is still captivated by the big screen and movies produced by Magyar cinema. industry. The week-long event will showcase the best of contemporary Hungarian cinema, and Bunyik insisted: “The 21st Los Angeles Hungarian Film Festival is one of the most exciting to date.”

Although the festival leader’s lifelong love affair with cinema began in Budapest, he found his match in Bonnie, his wife of 48 years, who passed away in 2021. The two met after Bunyik left his native Hungary to move to Los Angeles. a real California girl. “She loved music very much and liked Hollywood movies with big stars,” she states. “She had no interest in going to see foreign films or reading subtitles. I started taking her with me to see French, Italian and all kinds of foreign movies, but we ended up fighting many times after watching a movie. It took some time to spark her interest in foreign films. But she became my best help when it came to choosing a film to distribute and also scheduling our film festival. I miss her so much.”

“Four Souls of Coyote” is Hungary’s entry in the Oscar race for best international feature film.
“Four Souls of Coyote” (Courtesy of Cinemon Entertainment)

In 1982, the duo founded the production and distribution company Bunyik Enterprises, initially bringing Hungarian and Eastern European cinema to North American audiences. A decade later, they acquired the U.S. distribution rights to Hungarian director Róbert Koltai’s comedy “We Never Die,” which was the Hungarian nominee for best foreign language film at the 66th Academy Awards. The film played to sold-out theaters at the Laemmle Theater in Los Angeles and was acquired by HBO. Many of the Hungarian filmmakers Bunyik had befriended (and represented) over the years began to ask themselves: Why not draw on that robust catalog to showcase the best of Hungarian cinema to American audiences?

The first edition of the Los Angeles Hungarian Film Festival was organized in 2003. Among the festival’s first champions was legendary Los Angeles Times film critic Kevin Thomas, while in the past it was attended by a procession of notable personalities, including the Academy Award winner (and noted film director). buff) Quentin Tarantino, actor Jim Belushi, three-time Oscar-nominated Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls” screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, California Film Commission executive director Colleen Bell, KISS frontman Gene Simmons, co-head of Sony Pictures Classics president Michael Barker, “Empire Strikes Back” director Irvin Kershner and iconic star Tony Curtis.

This year’s festival opens with “Semmelweis,” a period biopic by cinematographer and Oscar-nominated director Lajos Koltai (“Fateless,” “Evening,” “Malena”). Set in 1847, as a mysterious epidemic ravages a maternity clinic in Vienna, the film follows Hungarian-born doctor Ignác Semmelweis in a race against the clock to solve the mystery and save lives while clashing with the city’s medical establishment. The main role is played by the promising Hungarian actor Miklos H. Vecsei and the cinematography is by Andras Nagy.

As in previous years, the festival will celebrate Hungary’s entry into the race for the Oscar for best international feature film, and this year that honor falls to “Four Souls of Coyote.” Written and created by Annecy Cristal winner Áron Gauder (“The District!”), the 2D animated film, which won a jury prize at Annecy this year, is an epic adventure about the creation of the universe inspired by a native american myth. The festival closes with “Golden Legends,” Tamas S. Zákonyi’s documentary about Hungary’s Olympic champion men’s water polo team, which earlier this year broke box office records for a documentary.

“Golden Legends” by Tamas S. Zákonyi broke box office records for a documentary in Hungary.
Courtesy of Flashback Media

Throughout the selection, the Los Angeles Hungarian Film Festival offers a mix of arthouse films and commercial hits, what Bunyik describes as “a very colorful festival” with a “great diversity of films.” Other highlights include the comedy “Be My Dad!” by Gábor Rohonyi and Csaba Vékes. and Yvonne Kerékgyártó’s romantic drama “We Started Together” (two of last year’s biggest box office hits in Hungary), as well as the animated film “Toldi,” the latest film from animation pioneer Marcell Jankovics. The Palme d’Or winner and Oscar nominee, who died in 2021, directed the first Hungarian animated feature film, “Johnny Corncob” (1973), and participated in more than 100 films as a director, figure designer, animator and stuntman.

Also expected is Noemi Szakonyi’s youth drama Veronika, “Six Weeks,” which has won awards at several international film festivals, including Shanghai and Tallinn, where it won the Just Film Grand Prix last year. It is a low-budget debut feature and is among the titles that Bunyik highlights as part of what he sees as a bright future for the Magyar film industry.

“Hungarian cinema is experiencing some changes from young filmmakers. Low-budget films are winning awards lately at many festivals. A young and talented generation is emerging from all over the country. Private film schools opened, cinema became more interesting than before, new film festivals are opening even in smaller cities,” says Bunyik. “Last year I was invited to be a member of the jury at the Adolph Zukor International Film Festival. It was surprising how many independent films participated in the selection. Everyone had a story to tell. “This is a very exciting time for Hungarian cinema.”

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