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Esther Turan speaks on Ageism, Her Film Company, New Projects and more.

January 10, 2019

Photo Credit: Tim Cofield

ATM: What is your connection with other female filmmakers, and how are you working to empower women in this industry?

ET: It was always super important to me to be surrounded by other female filmmakers. It is a very natural thing for me to create film with other women. I needed to fight for people’s attention, and I needed to fight when I started my career as a producer for men to take me seriously. So, it is important for me, but it is not a new thing. I started the production company on my own as a woman and asked another female producer to join me. It is important to create something together, and it is important to take a female approach when it comes to filmmaking. I also started to direct and have recently finished my second documentary with another female director. So, I am not just a female producer, but I am also a female film director. It is wonderful that I am around another female director as I love to make films with other women.

ATM: What were the times you felt men did not take you seriously because of your gender?

ET: Also because of my age. I was very young when establishing MovieBar, it had just come out of film school, and was in my early to mid-20s. It is unusual for someone who is under the age of 25 and a female to establish a company, so it was the gender and the age. I was 100% confident that men wouldn’t take me seriously. I always needed to put extra effort and time into what I did for people to take me more seriously. Now that I have started to direct recently, I am facing the same problem. I needed to face the fact that some men just think women cannot direct. They thought we could not direct our documentary, it was an insult. Why do you think we need help? We never turn to you to ask for help. Why do you come to us offering help in directing when we never asked? I started out fresh as a director. Even recently, I witnessed some prejudice with this from people who are probably not experts in this field. “These chicks cannot direct.” When people noticed the success we gained in Europe for our documentary series, things started to change, and people started to take us more seriously.

ATM: Did you feel like the 1% during the start of your company because you were going against expectations? What was the journey like for you to know you could do it?

ET: Experience helped and gave me the confidence to know more about filmmaking. Also, gaining more projects and trust from people. When you begin something, you probably have a lack of confidence, so gaining experience helped me. When I was calmer with my knowledge and had more confidence in myself, then I could be more aware of who took me seriously and how I should act. I also had more positive feedback than negative feedback and could deal with it easier after a while.

ATM: What did you daydream or visualize while sitting in the seats of your film school, as far as your career and the film business goes?

ET: I was thinking about Hollywood. When I was a freshman in film school, one of my producers turned to the entire class to ask, “Who spoke English? Who wanted to come for a summer job on an American shoot?” I raised my hand because I did speak English. I wanted so bad to know how to become a trainee. At 20, during the summer, I found myself on this huge American shoot. I was serving coffee to Mr. Ben Kinglsey and Patrick Dempsey. This is how I started my film career as a trainee. It was a wonderful experience because I saw some fantastic and phenomenal actresses. I have a theatre background, so I was interested in the acting. It was an amazing experience. Because of this American film shoot, it helped me to find myself in the film business. I really dreamed of making it in Hollywood, and today, here I am.

ATM: Explain the start of the preparation for BP Underground and introduction to meeting your co-director.

ET: My background is in television and directing. So, I always had this creative aspect in me, even after becoming a producer I still see myself as a creative producer. After being a part of so many countless projects creatively as a producer, I found an urge I had not mastered. I met this woman named Anna who would later become my director for the BP Underground series. We knew each other briefly, but we met at a concert. She started to tell me about this idea of hers to portray certain sub cultures of Hungary. I told her I had the same idea because this is where I came from. If someone is connected to any of the sub cultures, then they really shape you. After becoming old enough, I felt cathartic in a good way about where I came from and what was important at the time. Every youngster belongs to certain music sub culture, but why? How? I wanted to portray it. We teamed up, and the rest is history.

ATM: Is misogyny infused in Budapest’s music similarly to how it is in American hip hop music?

ET: I come from Budapest, which is such an interesting spot in the room. We are literally on the edge of east and west. My country became westernized thirty years ago. I was already alive and only in elementary school, but I remember the regime change portraying in the music subculture. This was not just hip hop but hardcore punk. This was in the 2000s. Again, we are talking about the American pop culture genre that some youngsters on the other side of the world think is fascinating, and here they created their own version of the American sub cultures. Both hardcore punk and hip hop are so deeply rooted into American society. Everything that came from America back then seemed cool over there, but they added their own voice to it, which was very different. When we are talking about hip hop, I do see a lot of similarities in our music. For example, we have Romani and Gypsies. It gave the Beastie Boys a legacy, which is why white men can rap. We touch all these topics and others.

ATM: During the 1990s and early 2000s in Budapest, what were the main musical themes present in the music?

ET: These were chaotic times. The regime changed a couple of years before. There was a sense of hysteria that was going to be in our democracy. A lot of lyrics touched on social justice, drugs, poverty, teenager problems, and depression. There were other genres of hip hop, like the little gangster scene. Some songs were funny and sarcastic about things in society. Also, in both sub cultures, unity was important and wanting to feel like they belonged somewhere. You could feel anger and frustration in the hardcore punk movement. These are the topics now that come to my mind. There were a lot of questions about the future of Hungary and society. Where would the society go?

ATM: What are some of the interesting aspects of the dark anthology series The Field Guide to Evil?

ET: I am the producer for the film The Field Guide to Evil. This is a horror movie, and the director is Peter Strickland. It is a film with eight sequences, and every sequence is about a folk story filmed in the director’s country. The folk stories are somehow horror related and very dark. Each of them is very brutal and executed in a very fascinating way. It is an art-house project. I oversaw the sequence directed by Peter Strickland. He is very well known in the indie world, and he is married to a Hungarian woman, so he picked a Hungarian folk story. Our sequence is called “The Cobblers’. It was so much fun!

ATM: What does the horror in the film represent about Hungary?

ET: In every nation, folk mythology has darker aspects. It is very interesting to feel in any given nation’s consciousness, in a way. It is a fascinating topic. As a Hungarian filmmaker and person, it is very interesting to see the dark side within our mythology. These are the stories not being told to children, and you do not necessarily hear, but they still exist. What is interesting in the Astoria or Polish sequence is that we had so much in common, even though I did not know about this sequence and was not involved. The American sequence was also so different and interesting, and there is an American twist to it. It was very modern and contemporary compared to the European sequences that took place during the 19th century. You could not tell, but it was all ancient stuff vs. the American.

ATM: What does living as a Hungarian woman mean? What are the average expectations or views put on Hungarian women?

ET: I feel like Hungarian women have to fight for their rights. I am very sad to see that we are not represented as well in our parliament. I am very sad about the situation of Hungarian women. Domestic violence should be treated differently and taken more seriously. It is such a tense issue for me. We should have more female role models and more female leaders. We do not have a track record of female leaders. For me now, living in the United States, it is refreshing to see that the United States is on a better stage. However, we do have a lot of successful female artists in Hungary, but it is still not enough. We should be more present in the political field and every other field. We should be paid equally and taken more seriously. Hungarian society needs more projects.

ATM: Who were your role models?

ET: Oh, this is such a nice question. One of my role models was my mother for sure. Aside from being a mom, she was a successful medical doctor. This was in addition to being a mother, a wife, and being in a hospital all the time. She managed it. My other role model was my aunt who is a very successful actress in Hungary. We all grew up watching her movies. She was involved in the show business, and this was what I saw as a young child. I saw her movies and visited her at the theatre. Both were very super successful in Hungary and were strong woman.

ATM: If you could morph these two inspirations into a slogan, then what would it be?

ET: It was momentous for me to see a woman achieve her dreams. They both gained tremendous success in their fields, and they were independent. For me, it was being an independent woman, to decide to fight your destiny, and your own actions. These are very important issues, and they both represent independent, successful, and strong women.

ATM: How were you able to hold on to these inspirations, while most Hungarian women did not have access to those types of inspirational women?

ET: It is about education. Hungarian education for women should be changed. Women should get more respect and equal rights. Things are changing slowly.

ATM: How does combining the topics of war, love, and amusement parks help to make a stronger film narrative in Swoon? Also, what is your relationship to these topics?

ET: It is a Swedish film, and I am producing it. It is Swedish life based, though I am not Swedish. It is a romantic love story, but it more reflects Swedish society, iconic places, and topics. It is about a Swedish amusement park in Stockholm, which has been the capital for 200 years. I am not Swedish, but I am honored these people choose me to be a part of their time. I will travel to Stockholm for the premiere of the movie in two weeks, but culturally, I am not connected to it because it represents a different country. I learned so much on this project about Swedish society.

These topics are adjoining in a way, unfortunately. It is important to discuss. It is an individual question about what you want to say in your movie. What is the movie saying? I believe in messages and that you should make a movie because of a message. You should not make a movie because you want to pose as a filmmaker. I know so many people that are just in the industry for the pose. I hate people like this. You should be in this industry if you have message or if you have something to give. Not because it is cool, but because you do have something to say. Unfortunately, there are always wars for a revolution. If you have specific message for a specific war, then it is great to make a movie about it. I come from a world where we had a lot of wars, revolutions, and battles. Nothing is stable. Our neighborhood is former Czechoslovakia.

There was a war next to my country in the 90s, which is insane in a neighboring country. Love is something that is interesting for all of us. Amusements are a great idea that we captured in this feature film Swoon. Besides this, I would not use an amusement park, but it is deeply related. It is an element for the story. It is about two families and their amusement parks and is sort of like a Romeo and Juliet story in a way. I hope there is going to be an English version aired in the United States.

ATM: What are ways you are looking to share your European skills with American indie filmmakers? Also, what are your upcoming projects and workload?

ET: After my premiere, I have to go to Hungary to receive a big award. It feels good being a part of something when coming from nothing. Now, I have many things on my desk. I am involved in projects in the United States. I am trying to share the bridge between European and American filmmakers. I am trying to work on co-productions together. I have so many projects going on. I am involved in a documentary, a huge feature film, and they are both American. I am also developing written content, and I have meetings. I just want to show American indie filmmakers they should come and collaborate with European filmmakers because it is beneficial to everyone.

ATM: How has your upbringing as a Hungarian city girl shaped you into who you are today?

ET: Wow. I can appreciate things more compared to America. When I was born in Hungary, there was socialism. It was not like a poor country, but it was not a wealthy country either. For certain items as a teenager, I needed to travel to Astoria to buy them. Teenagers are enthusiastic about certain things. I still sometimes shop in United States on the quantity and choices. How many cornflakes are on a supermarket shelf? These certain things I am not used to. I am an 80s girl. In the 80s, even though I was young, I witnessed that art has a part in criticizing society. You can make a change with art. I saw this when I was a young girl. My father was a playwright and a director of museums. I grew up with a Bohemian family and intellectuals who made a difference in culture under socialism. I inherited it. Art is such a strong tool if you use it in the right way. It is definitely from where I grew up.

ATM: How did you view the United States?

ET: The United States was the land of opportunities. I know the Unites States has its problems, but it still is an existing democracy. I come from Europe where democracy is not always that obvious. I love the United States. I was eleven the first time I was in the United States. I had an uncle who lived in Chicago. He invited me, so I spent an entire summer there. It was the end of the 80s. It was such a huge difference for me coming from socialist, communist Hungary to the United States.

ATM: What differences did you see at eleven years old?

ET: I felt like kids in my age range were much freer in a way. Back then, I did feel it was a much wealthier place than the country I came from everything was existing, and everything was here. Everything is quite fascinating. I remember when I was eleven, and we went to Toys R US, and I freaked out. I was like, “This cannot be true.” I was so into music. This was the MTV era. I was like, “Oh my god. MTV!” I was just watching all the music videos and brought tons of music in every form.

ATM: What did you tell your Hungarian friends about your venture in the United States?

ET: They were so jealous because I got home with so many American clothes. They liked me, but they were jealous. Thank you for the brilliant questions, I enjoyed talking with you! These were such relevant and eventful questions.

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