CPH:DOX 2014 /Østergaard & Rácz

1989 by Anders Østergaard & Erzsébet Rácz 

Of course the film had to start with 1956 and it does so with very fine and moving archive footage of people searching for the remains of Imre Nagy, whose government was not accepted when the Russians invaded the country. Nagy was executed in 1958. That historical reference is important to include as the re-burial of Nagy, the rehabilitation of him, happened in the years around 1989, and with the support of Miklós Neméth, who served as prime minister 1988-1990 and is the main character of ”1989”, an intelligent, informative, entertaining and provoking documentary.

Yes, it deserves all these superlatives for its fresh look at what happened 25 years ago, when the wall went down as did the Soviet Union. Neméth, economist, coming into power, looked at a country close to bankruptcy and found the border control mechanisms extremely expensive – so he decided to have the borders opened, to tear down the iron curtain. He did so and had strong opposition from the hard-liners in his communist party, his rooms were bugged, and his manouvres were looked upon with more than skepticism from the GDR leader Erich Honecker, as the result was that thousands of Eastern Germans flew to the West through Hungary, before the wall went down in their own country.

They are all there in the film – Gorbachev, Helmuth Kohl, Honecker – and

they talk, well maybe not always with their own voices, but with their own words, researched, found and checked in the archives by the filmmakers. Who have put together archive images of these big-name players, or have reconstructed archive images of them – the meetings behind closed doors are brought into daylight. It is wonderful to watch a storytelling that breaks some rules of the mainstream television historical documentary. Call it hybrid or not, what the filmmakers seek is authenticity.

Parallel to the greater political story runs a personal – a Hungarian is being shot at the border at a time, when it was closed after being open. His widow talks about how it was to enter a freedom that her husband did not get to enjoy. This element in the film stands a bit weaker than the playful political interpretation and the moving images that relates to Hungary 1956. Neméth stands out as a brilliant and sympathetic man, who joined the communist party and went to its top, a decision he took even if his father told him ”remember where you come from” and did not talk to him for six months!

Clever, very clever film that has its premiere at cph:dox festival on November 5 and is being simultaneously screened in many European cities – in the press material is mentioned Oslo, Prague, Brussels, Dublin, Kiev, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok,Porto, Belgrade… check your local media for where the screenings take place.

Denmark, 2014, 90 mins.


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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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