Thursday, 6 October 2016

Budapest International Documentary Festival: 'Those' review

The BIFD ran between the 24th Sept and 2nd Oct. There was a huge range of films screened, almost all followed by Q&As with the filmmakers. I only managed to see three, but even this limited amount gave me an idea of the scope and relevance of the festival, and the power of the documentary form to be both specific and universal.

"One day, a new kind of creature was spotted in the woods... soon they were everywhere."

Those / Azok (dir: Krisztina Meggyes) is a startling insight into a sentiment that has become common as our refugee crisis intensifies. Unlike many recent docs that seek to show the travails of the migrants, Those instead presents us with the people that fear them. The film starts with fairy-tale narration ("There once was a village...") and charming hand-drawn animation. It then becomes an insightful and sympathetic study of a wealthy rural village in Hungary, and its response to the establishment of a refugee camp not far from its border. 

On Oct 2nd 2016, there was a Hungarian referendum to decide whether the country should reject EU quotas for housing migrants; the BIDF pertinently screened Those a number of times in the two weeks leading up to the vote. Most of the film is composed of single, straight to camera testimonies of the villagers in their homes. The locations are comfy, homely; the feelings they explain are less so. The referendum result is still under dispute: less than 50% voted, but 98% of those who did vote chose to reject the EU quota. Those provides a valuable insight into the origins of sentiments that can be too easily dismissed by liberals (like me) as 'racist' or 'xenophobic'. But the villagers are not knee-jerk reactionaries or incensed right-wingers. They are concerned parents, elderly people who cling to their traditions; human beings whose feelings of danger and insecurity run deeper. Many remember the Communist era, others remember the Nazi occupation. They fought for their way of life and when it is threatened - whether or not you agree with the validity of their fears - we can empathise with their response. 

There is a glimmer of hope towards the end when some of the more elderly residents begin to thaw. They are encouraged by many of the refugees' commitment to church-going, and religion provides a valuable bridge between race, culture and circumstance.

But this is still an unsettling but ultimately human portrait of intolerance, and of a community that could be anywhere in Europe (not least Brexit-era UK) during this migration crisis. Fueled by lack of education and lack of empathy, fanned by exploitative politicians for whom fear is just an election opportunity, these fires need to be understood to be combated.

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