Response to “Hollywood on the Danube” (NY Times)

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My faculty advisor recently sent me this article from the New York Times, which describes the reasons behind the current growing popularity of Hungary as a filming location for many US-based film production companies. Here’s the link to the whole article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/03/business/global/03iht-eastfilms.html

The article explains the economic motivation that Budapest (and the surrounding regions) provides for movies:

“Dozens of foreign film and television productions are choosing Budapest over Prague, Paris, London or Sofia for shooting in Europe, drawn largely by a 20 percent rebate on production costs, a weak local currency and low wages for crews.”

Additionally, the article touches upon ways that Hungary has made itself more viable as a cheaper option, explaining that “the country began to gain a financial edge in 2004 when the government approved a 20 percent rebate for foreign and domestic film productions.

I’ve already read about these rebates/subsidies that the Hungarian government has enacted (is that the right word?) in the past decade, but reading it again just emphasizes how influential these moves have been. But this article also does a good job about pointing out some of the cultural/social consequences of Hungary standing in as a cheaper version of some other setting (through the years, it has represented many places, including Rome, Buenos Aires, and Munich):

  • the exploitative potential of using Hungarian crews who are paid much less, are used to much longer working hours (~12 hours/day) and who aren’t protected by unions as many other crews in Paris/London/LA are
    • this might be a stretch, but this seems to hint at cultural imperialism of “Western” countries, casting Hungary as an “Eastern” entity and taking advantage of its less developed and protected infrastructure (I think this is called “race to the bottom”?)
  • the possibility of misrepresentation of Hungary or its inhabitants by (virtually) always having it stand in for another country/culture
    • this practice of hiring Hungarians as extras for different settings seems to de-legitimize the Hungarian individual as something worthwhile to be illustrated in these movies
    • yet at the same time, should it be part of the acceptance/assumption on the part of the Hungarian extras that foreign films will want to use Hungary to represent something else (while local films can take on the  responsibility of exposing Hungary to its viewers)?
  • the fear that some Hungarian companies have about being so dependent on foreign film companies to provide jobs for so many of their citizens (a recent construction industry collapse has left many of the lower-skill work force scrambling for any type of job they can find as set builders/etc)
    • again, this to me relates back to traces of imperialism (but now in the context of globalization) with foreign companies rushing in and flooding the country (temporarily) with jobs but eventually leaving to another location
    • the question here is if Hungary’s economy/infrastructure is strong enough to stand on its own if/when these film companies run off the newest cheap filming spot in another part of the world

Sidenote: This article mentions GABOR KOLTAI, a successful Hungarian film producer who has worked on foreign films…might be worthwhile to look into his background/projects (and/or others who might have worked with any Indian film companies!

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1956 Hungarian Revolution (Initial Look)

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Hmm so I guess I did this a little backwards, with a post focusing on the 50th anniversary of this revolution coming before a post dedicated to the revolution itself. I’ll continue gathering details related to the events in October-November 1956 throughout my researching process, but for now here is a quick overview.

First, after poking around a bit on YouTube, I managed to find a succinct summary of the events leading up to and stemming from the Hungarian revolt that started in late October 1956 and went into the first few days of November of the same year. This video was the least biased that I could find, although it does definitely appear to be made using a pro-Hungarian/West perspective. Also, it was the few that was composed mostly of actual film footage and not a series of photographs with voice-over narration:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHaaolTGG_Y&feature=related

My Own Notes from the Video:

-after WWI: run as Stalinistic dictatorship…Stalin died 1953
-1953, New PM Imre Nagy showed potential for reform
-waves of demonstrations led by students and intellectuals in October 1956
-groups of armed factions; fighting spread throughout Budapest
-looked like it was going to be a Hungarian success through the last week of October
-Imre Nagy became PM officially for a few weeks
-Nov 4 1956, USSR forces came back after a temporary ceasefire/retreat
-1958 Nagy executed after being tried for treason

*Interesting part at the end that Soviet Union allowed for even more liberal policies in Hungary than any other East European country…might be useful to look into that from a legislative perspective and then think about possible cultural ramifications of that*

Just for me to have some visuals, here are a few pictures that I found online:

This is a shot of a main intersection in Budapest sometime in late October 1956; the physical damage from the revolt (and the subsequent Soviet response) significantly affected daily Hungarian life and had longer-enduring infrastructural effects.

This is Prime Minister Imre Nagy (1896-1958), who was one of the main instigators of the  revolt and was later executed on charges of treason by the Soviet Union.

50th Anniversary of 1956 Revolution – India’s Recognition

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Here are some documents related to a publication by the India Minister for Tourism and Culture, Ambika Soni, in late 2006. The publication was a book “India and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution: Materials from the Archives of the Ministry of External Affairs.”

These documents should help in terms of mapping relations between the two countries stemming from the 1956 Hungary Revolution, which I’m using as the starting point for analyzing political/economic/cultural interactions.

1) http://www.indianembassy.hu/html/TnCMinister/1956-Ind%20President%20APJK%27s%20Msg-Ew.htm

This document is a letter from the President of India from 2002-2007, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, sent August 10, 2006, around the same time as the book’s publication. It addresses the 50th anniversary of the revolution and explains one of the reasons why India was so open in showing empathy for the Hungarian people: having just won its independence eight years earlier, India fully understood the motivations behind the revolt and the hope for the future after the fact.

2) http://www.indianembassy.hu/html/TnCMinister/SmtAmbikaSoniSpeechEng.htm

This is a speech by the Minister for Tourism and Culture Ambika Soni, given on October 24, 2006 to a crowd in Hungary that included Foreign Minister Kinga Goncz. She was representing India at the 50 Year commemoration of the 1956 Revolution at a ceremony held in Budapest. Minister Soni summarizes the Indian National Congress and PM responses to the revolution at the time as well as asserting confidence for the continuation of friendly relations between India and Hungary.

3) http://www.indianembassy.hu/html/TnCMinister/1956-HunPrez%20Msg%20in%20Eng.pdf

This is a message issued by the President of Hungary in 2006, László Sólyom, in response to the publication of Minister Soni’s book. He touts India’s demonstration of solidarity during and shortly after the 1956 Revolution, and also voices his admiration for how the two countries have interacted since then.

Things to Think About:

  • What are the political implications of India as a newly independent country visibly asserting its solidarity with Hungary? Keep in mind the West’s conception of India as a colonial entity at the time to consider how the rest of the world might have viewed this demonstration…
  • More generally, why/how is it important that a traditional “Eastern/Asian” country took an active role and producing a message that traveled East –> West?
  • Are there any good resources to find archives of newspapers during the 1956 events to see how other countries (especially UK, US) reacted to India’s actions?