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CIRCLE 2018 Participants: Meet Ágnes Horváth-Szabó with "Beauty of the Beast" project

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

Ágnes Horváth-Szabó was born in Budapest. In 2011, Ágnes debuted as a producer with a short film, Forest by Gyorgy Mor Karpati, premiered at the Berlinale. Since then, Ágnes contributed to award-winning art-house films, documentaries and shorts as a freelance producer, associate producer or production manager.

1. Introduce yourself please briefly and your project.

I’m the co-founder of Budapest based ELF Pictures. My partner, producer Andras Pires Muhi, and I share the need for bringing fresh and thought-provoking documentaries to life. ELF Pictures is also a distributor in Hungary. This division is led by Peter Donath and the company produces commercials as well. ELF debuted with Nine Month War by Laszlo Csuja, Special Jury Prize winner of last year’s Sarajevo FF.

We have several domestic and international docs underway. One of them is Beauty of the Beast by painter/artist Anna Nemes. This visual and sensual essay points to the fragility of female bodybuilders. Diving under the glitter and the tanned skin, we look for the reasons lying behind their lifestyle. We want to show the complexity of female bodybuilding through empathy and understanding. The viewer will be introduced to the bodybuilder subculture; an amazing manifestation of endurance and devotion, as well as the distorted reflection of today’s beauty ideals.

2. What drew you to making Beauty of the Beast?

Anna Nemes is a painter/artist and I am a fan of her art. When Anna introduced the bodybuilding world to me, it was through her aquarelles which depict the ladies in a never-before-seen manner. These huge, real life-size or even bigger, gentle paintings enabled me to see how Anna sees them. Her interest is one driven by care, attention and love.

Beauty of the Beast is Anna’s first documentary. No doubt: her film will start exactly where the other films on bodybuilding end. For me, the concept combined with Anna’s approach in painting, background in psychology, and her extraordinary vision guarantee that the documentary will become a remarkable piece, while offering new avenues for defining one’s personality, womanhood, strength and beauty.

3. What is the biggest challenge in making this film?

Anna would like to show what the characters would like to hide.

4. Can you compare your experience at CIRCLE with other similar platforms that you have been part of?

Those workshops where the delegate of the project is “alone”, not forming a director-producer duo, have a different charm. Presence and focus is sharpened, I find it worthwhile and beneficial. Personally I was very much looking forward to attend CIRCLE because the projects, tutors and guests were so well curated.

The idea of involving projects by women and presented by women only, provided an environment with a different dynamic. Usually, I spend my time being in mixed groups, working and hanging out with twice as many guys than girls. I never really thought about this, nor have I had the desire to have a “women-only-experience” outside the changing room or with a certain circle of friends. I even had my doubts about if such initiatives were needed in my profession - it certainly has to do with the lack of frustration I am facing in my life originating from my gender. Still, when I found myself working in a dry clean lady lab in CIRCLE, I found it inspiring: this experience highlighted how often my behaviour does involve reflexes based on my gender. Are they part of my personality? Are they productive or counterproductive? Why? I think it is a useful exercise to observe this.

5. What were the most important benefits from being part of CIRCLE project?

CIRCLE, being one of the most relevant workshops I have been part of, has long lasting benefits: the circle of participants and tutors had precious time together which was a solid base for further collaborations. It is also essential that it’s a three-session programme so we can follow the other seven projects’ life throughout a long period. With this extended case study one can gain valuable knowledge that gets incorporated in their further works.

The participants were selected with attention to their level of experience as well. Our circle also included emerging and veteran filmmakers. Due to the small number of projects, I believe this safe environment was equally beneficial for all of us.

6. What advice do you have for other (female) directors?

I’d rather just share a question related to (not only) women issues, which concerns me currently. All the platforms around me, the people I am in touch with, newsletters, posts, ads tailored for me create a bubble. A bubble in which one can exchange ideas with people having 90% the same opinion, communicating in a way that makes sense to us, and we make films, write articles, organise vital panel discussions seen/read/visited mostly by us. I think we are fine here in the bubble, doing a great job, man and women alike, and the diverse issues we are dealing with in our profession are seemingly relevant, but I wonder: what is happening outside the bubble? We have the knowledge and the tools to move forward, this train is already moving, it’s unstoppable - in our profession. Although, I think we could contribute more to the well-being of our society if we practiced a more interdisciplinary attitude, put emphasis on outreach, looking for connections outside the film industry as well. (Or maybe this exists – I just don’t see it because I’m in the bubble!)

7. Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

River of Grass by Kelly Reichardt from 1994. A daring transplantation of a lovers-on-the-run film. Despite all the expectations, this film excludes love, crime and a real journey. Ham and eggs without the ham and the eggs.

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