Filmmaker, director, animator, lecturer – László Csáki speaks to us about travelling with fake train tickets, chalk animation, the limitations of film festivals, and how teaching keeps him fresh.
We are in Presszó Bambi. What’s your connection to the place?
LÁSZLÓ: My university on Tölgyfa street was close, and we always used to come here. We hung out a lot here back in 1996-97. When the university building closed down and moved to Zugligeti street – University of Applied Arts then, and MOME now – this place lost its importance, but for our class it still remains a meeting point. When people who live abroad come home to visit in the summer, we always meet up here. It’s even more exciting during the summer when you can sit outside, and people have close combats for the seats. So I always connect this place with my school years. By the way, it looked exactly the same then as it does now. Not a single nail was changed.
How do you remember the Blue Pelican era? What personal memories inspired the topic of your film?
The whole film is based on my memories. This is the first time in my life when I make a film about an era or event which I actually took part in and lived through. I was a ticket buyer though, not a forger. Travelling with fake international train tickets was a common thing in the 90s in Hungary. This is how I traveled too. This was the only way to get a ticket. We could hitchhike as well, but this seemed safer and more “legal”.
Word got around the university that there is a guy who can get you a ticket anywhere for 7,000 HUF. Everyone was sceptical at first, but practically the whole class went somewhere during the summer, and everyone could also come back without a problem. So from that point we weren’t sceptical anymore.
A few years later as an adult, when the whole thing decayed and it wasn’t that important anymore, I started to think about how it wasn’t a legal thing, first of all, and also how I could have just jumped into this without thinking that it could lead to trouble. You have to be young to do something like that.
And on the other hand, how come the forger, whom I always visited at his own flat, wasn’t scared that sooner or later the police will show up? How could it go on for so long? What did the authorities know about this? And why did I get involved in a situation like this as a “customer”? These are the questions that formed the film. These, and also the fact that we weren’t the only ones doing this. I met a few people around my age from Italy who told me they were doing the same thing, even though they were living in a place which was in a better situation than Hungary. Creative people always come up with ways to get out of the woods.
We also got a “User’s Manual” with tips like: Don’t get on a train at Keleti Station (in Budapest), but go to a border crossing and only show the ticket to a foreign conductor, as they wouldn’t know if it’s valid or not, they will only check your destination. I was very nervous. All I was focusing on is to only show the ticket to an Austrian conductor first. Once he puts a stamp on it, the rest of them won’t even look, just do the same.
They also said we should crumple it up and always take it out casually from your jeans pocket.
What would be the destination on your fake ticket now?
I’m not sure. I always wanted to go to Barcelona, but as I said, I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be able to do it again now. This worked in an era and age when you could be outrageous and irresponsible.
But I’m very happy that I didn’t miss out on this back then. With all these budget airlines around, you can travel anytime nowadays.
Days that Were Filled with Sense by Fear was your first chalk animation and since then you seem to have explored this world even more. What are you able to achieve with this technique?
A lot of freedom. I can work with it without depending on anyone. It’s unbelievably simple, cheap, and you can easily tell any story with it. Sooner or later everyone who works with animation will have a technique which allows them to express themselves and to create films. Mine is chalk. Once there was a tender which I got funding for, but it wasn’t enough to make the film the way I wanted to. That’s when I first used it and later I realised that this is the fastest way I can work. It gives me the feeling that I can visualise whatever I think of, and I like that a lot.
I’m interested in the short film genre, but other than the internet, I don’t really see a forum for it. Are festivals a good alternative to show your films?
The internet is perfect. I know that once Blue Pelican is done, I will upload it without a doubt. I had a lot of problems with festivals. I make my films for the public, but a festival only considers a limited audience. Most of them reserve the right for exclusivity, so if they choose a film, it means that film can not be entered to any other festivals. We had troubles like this with (My Name is) Boffer Bings. Many people chase these festival successes, but my film aren’t like that. They are more peripheral. I want to reach the audience that is interested in them. I’m not saying that I don’t want to send anything to festivals, but for example, Boffer Bings was pre-selected for the Berlinale, and we got so happy about it. But then they looked into it, and because this film was entered to Amigo, and had a screening in Vienna, where only about 20 people saw it, they considered it as an international premier and they said “No, thank you”. That’s why I think that the most important thing is for people to see it, and there is nothing better than the internet for that. Cinema still works too. Short film doesn’t work in TV, but it does in cinema.
You recently won the Balázs Béla Award (an award to recognise achievements in cinematography). What does this recognition mean to you professionally?
I was very happy about it! And it was awarded by a professional audience, which I’m extra happy about. Tin City and Boffer Bings were both recognised here, as I received the award for documentary and animation direction. It’s very inspiring. I’m not sure if I was supposed to get it now, but it was perfect timing right after I won the Grand Prize in Kecskemét (11th Kecskemét Animation Film Festival). Boffer Bings really came together by the end, it was my baby (smiles). In it, I was able to show what I’m really capable of.
You’ve been working in fine art, photography, animation.. and the list goes on. How do you choose which medium to use next?
For example with Blue Pelican, I knew that I have to tell the story the same way as the forgers told me. I knew three of them already and I made friends with the rest of them too. I knew that the message will only come through if I use their words, their way of telling the story. But if I want to do that, what do I need for it…?
It became a documentary animation, something I’ve never done before, but I knew this format would work. Usually the topic dictates the medium and not the other way around.
You’ve been teaching at MOME, Krea, BKF, and Kontak. What does teaching give you? What do you enjoy about it?
I love teaching, it keeps me fresh. You are surrounded with people who create, and they bring things that are fresher than me. You can also see that kind of light looseness, which you don’t have anymore. Since there are more and more people around, you feel like you are not enough on your own. You would need two of yourself to reach people, to communicate and work with them.
Of course it’s still a very good thing to see that you start something that inspires others and new things are being created and born. It’s like when you travel abroad; you have a bubble around you, but when you come back home you look at things from a different perspective. This “bubble” lasts for three to four days and then you lose it because you get new experiences. It’s almost the same kind of euphoria when you come up with an idea, and you see that you don’t have to push them (the students), they are doing it because they are interested and involved in it. The point for me is to create a situation for them in which they can start working.
I’m trying to guide them, but it’s important that they do the things they want to do, and do them the way they want to do them.
May I ask you to do a quick sketch of us in Blue Pelican stlye?
Of us sitting here? Sure. But it’s always easier to draw the objects that are in front of us…
PHOTOGRAPHY BY GÁBOR ZOLTÁN TÓTH