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Ildikó Enyedi Interview – President, Short Film Jury – 76th Cannes Film Festival

Ildikó Enyedi was 34 years old when her first feature film, My Twentieth Century won the Camera d’Or in Cannes. It got rave reviews in the trades, and she was declared a breath of fresh air of a new class of female directors emerging from the fall of communism. But she brushed off the onslaught of Hollywood agents offering her scripts ‘ideal for a young East European woman director’ and said no to all the cheesy love stories set in the Cold War.

Instead, she was chasing a dream, scraping together the scarce financing for her independent European arthouse movies that eventually brought her to the Venice Film Festival (Simon Magus), won her the Golden Bear in Berlin, an Oscar nomination (On Body and Soul), membership in the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences, and a glorious return to the main competition in Cannes (The Story of My Wife). In the meantime, she became fluent in several languages, acquired the craft of directing a television series for HBO Europe, got married and had two kids, raising them between her two homes in Germany and Hungary.

Ildikó Enyedi is now a beloved professor at the Free Academy of Cinema Arts in Budapest. Currently she’s busy prepping a television series for RTL while finishing up casting of a feature film in French, German, Chinese and Hungarian coproduction. And in between presiding over the Short Film Jury at the Cannes Film Festival.

How many juries have you been on?

You and I met in Venice when I was on the main jury; I was a member of the jury twice in Berlin, then San Sebastian, and some smaller festivals, so I have lots of experience. My funniest memory is a Hungarian festival, a competition for children, up to the age of 14. It was really touching to see that very strong wish of those kids to communicate something. It was a beautiful vibe and energy.

There will be mostly women on the Short Film jury. Do you think this will be reflected in your decision making?

I look very much forward to working with all of them because they’re extremely interesting artists in their own right, I admire their work. The time has come for women, but that also means for me that we are just five human beings, no distinctions in any sense.

As president of the jury will you be the tip of the scale?

I’ve been president on some juries and watched how presidents work at A-list festivals like Venice and Berlin. I would like to mention the Venice festival, where our president, Annette Bening took this task seriously. She’s a graceful and thoughtful person. We had passionate discussions, and we got to know each other quite well as filmmakers and film lovers. That’s a jury that keeps in contact to this day. So, I believe a president can modify how much the jury members open up to each other if she or he is as human and sincere as Annette is. She was great.

Why are short films important?

I’ve been waiting 20 years to see the internet take over from the gatekeepers, the distribution companies and give a chance to all sort of films to find their audience, even if it’s a very niche audience. It hasn’t happened for feature films yet. It’s very hard to make a good short film. It’s not simply the little sister of feature film, it’s a format to find a way to communicate using experimental forms, convey new energies. It can reach lots of young people interested in audiovisual culture, and it’s a great tool for young artists to express themselves before they try their hands in feature filmmaking.

Being president on the short film jury has the benefits of some downtime. Who are you looking forward to meeting in Cannes?

My evenings will be free so I can go to screenings as much as possible. I’m also preparing a film, and this will be a great opportunity to meet potential co producers. Also, Aki Karuismaki will have a new film, he’s a wonderful guy, made this film from nothing, and I heard it’s a very touching, strong movie. I will see Scorsese’s and Wes Anderson’s films but first and foremost, I would like to discover up and coming talent. 

Despite all your accomplishments and awards, you’re probably the only major talent in Europe who doesn’t have a Hollywood agent. Why do you keep saying no to Hollywood?

When I was younger, I was a very stubborn filmmaker. Later I had some projects in mind that would have made sense on the other side of the ocean, but they didn’t catch on. Now I’m too old for the agencies, and I feel safe in the European system. On all my films I have final cut, I’ve never worked without this security. All my projects are very personal. I write them myself. So, I think, mutually we don’t make sense for each other, Hollywood and me.

The project you’re working on, The Silent Friend, is a German, French, Hungarian, Chinese co-production. This film is about the relationship between man and nature. Can you tell us more about this movie?

The central figure of the movie is a tree, but this movie is about us, humans. I’m a human, my audience is human, we communicate through our very human limitations. It will show in three time periods of the last hundred years, which is not much in a tree’s life, how radically our perception of the world around us, and consequently we, ourselves, are changing. We share three stories, because we’re storytelling and story listening animals; one set at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, the second is in the ‘70s with the naïve boldness of the era, and the third is set today. I show our clumsy attempts trying to understand these very complex beings which live beside us silently, the plants.

Did you find the lead – the tree?

I found a wonderful medieval town, Marburg, and that’s where our tree stands. But I would prefer to leave the rest in shadow.