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The Alchemist: A Péter Forgács Film Retrospective
November 2, 2014

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 2 | 11:00am-6:30pm
Location: YIVO Institute, 15 West 16th Street
Individual Screenings: General $10 | YIVO and MCNY Members $8 | View programs below to purchase tickets
Discussion: General $15 | YIVO and MCNY Members $12
Day Pass (all screenings + discussion): General $25 | YIVO and MCNY Members $20 | Purchase

Media artist and independent filmmaker Péter Forgács is best known for his brilliant, soulful films that transform ordinary home movies into cinematic meditations on memory, history, and meaning. With this film retrospective—the first of Forgács’s Jewish films—viewers are invited to enter Forgács’s world and explore these questions through the particular lens of the Jewish experience. Screenings of Free Fall, A Bibó Reader, The Danube Exodus, Miss Universe 1929, and The Maelstrom will be shown, followed by a discussion with Péter Forgács and film scholar Bill Nichols at 6:30pm. To purchase tickets to screenings and the discussion see below.

Presented by YIVO and the Museum of the City of New York.

This event is presented in connection with Letters to Afar, an immersive video art installation co-presented by YIVO and the Museum of the City of New York (October 22, 2014-March 22, 2015). To learn more visit here.

View Free Fall
View A Bibó Reader
View The Danube Exodus
View Miss Universe 1929
View The Maelstrom
View "The Alchemist: A Conversation with Péter Forgács"


Free Fall
1996, 75 minutes

Purchase General $10 | YIVO and MCNY Members $8
Purchase Day Pass (all screenings + discussion): General $25 | YIVO and MCNY Members $20

Using the home movies of musician, photographer, and businessman Gyorgy Peto, Free Fall follows the story of a happy, optimistic Hungarian Jewish family in Szeged whose attempts at normalcy are slowly eroded by Hungary’s anti-Jewish laws of the 1930s. Forgács reveals their determination, illusions, and hopes as the unimaginable unfolds, until the very last moments. This film is winner of the Grand Prize for Short and Experimental Film, Hungarian Film Week, 1997; Grand Prix, International Documentary Film Festival of Marseilles, 1997; and Best Documentary Fiction Prize, Hungarian Film Critics, 1999. With a moving operatic score composed and conducted by Tibor Szemzo.


A Bibó Reader
2001, 69 minutes

Purchase General $10 | YIVO and MCNY Members $8
Purchase Day Pass (all screenings + discussion): General $25 | YIVO and MCNY Members $20

“The greatest threat to the rule of law is not the people outside it, but those uncertain and distorted situations in which [the law] becomes bad, contradictory, and hypocritical.”
—István Bibó

István Bibó, the great Hungarian political thinker of the 20th century, philosopher, and minister during the 1956 Hungarian revolution, was sentenced to life imprisonment, and later released under an amnesty. In this film, Forgács presents the sensitivity and insight of Bibó's social and historical analysis, and uses unretouched found footage to provide us with a poetic glimpse into the Hungarian landscape of the twentieth century. This film is winner of Best Director for Short and Experimental Film at the Hungarian Film Festival, 2002. With score composed by Tibor Szemzo.


The Danube Exodus
1998, 60 minutes

Purchase General $10 | YIVO and MCNY Members $8
Purchase Day Pass (all screenings + discussion): General $25 | YIVO and MCNY Members $20

Just before the beginning of World War II, a group of nine hundred Slovakian Jews escape to Palestine via the Danube River on a cruise ship named the Queen Elizabeth. We see their journey in intimate detail through the lens of Captain Nándor Andrasovits, one of the boat’s captains and a “persistent amateur filmmaker” who filmed his passengers while they prayed, slept and even married. Along with the human close-up Andrasovits provides, the ship’s travels also signals a harbinger of the disastrous things to come in Europe—once emptied of its Slovakian Jewish exiles, the Queen Elizabeth then sails to Germany with Bessarabian refugees fleeing their country’s Soviet invasion. This film is winner of the Documentary Grand Prize, Hungarian Film Week, 1999; The Silver Dragon Prize, Krakow International Documentary Film Festival, 1999; and the Fipresci Prize, Krakow International Documentary Film Festival, 1999.


Miss Universe 1929
2006, 70 minutes

Purchase General $10 | YIVO and MCNY Members $8
Purchase Day Pass (all screenings + discussion): General $25 | YIVO and MCNY Members $20

A bittersweet glimpse into interwar Austro-Hungarian life, Miss Universe 1929 tells the story of Lisl Goldarbeiter, who began winning beauty contests in her native Vienna, then sailed across the Atlantic to America to be crowned Miss Universe. World famous, Lisl received invitations and offers from Hollywood, traveled extensively, and finally settled down to marry Fritz Spielmann, heir to a silk necktie fortune in Vienna. Through amateur footage shot by her cousin, Marci Tenczer, we watch the dreamy rise of “a Queen in Wien” until Hitler’s Anschluss changes life in Austria, and Lisl and Fritz lose nearly everything. This film is winner of Special Mention, Hungarian Film Week , 2007. With original score by Lászlo Melis.


The Maelstrom
1997, 60 minutes

Purchase General $10 | YIVO and MCNY Members $8
Purchase Day Pass (all screenings + discussion): General $25 | YIVO and MCNY Members $20

On a boardwalk during a storm, visitors in their Sunday best run from the crashing waves; but one little boy rushes to the edge and leans over to watch the deluge of water. This image from The Maelstrom suggests a witness willing to stare directly into danger. In The Maelstrom we see Max Peereboom’s Dutch Jewish family celebrating wedding anniversaries, eating together and preparing for trips, all unwittingly in the impending shadow of the Holocaust. A jazz score by Tibor Szemko makes the audience feel almost complicit in their eventual fate. This film is winner of Grand Prize, Out Of That Darkness International Film Festival, London, 2000; and The Mayor’s Jewish Experience Prize, Jerusalem International Film Festival, Israel, 1999.


The Alchemist: A Conversation with Péter Forgács

Purchase General $15 | YIVO and MCNY Members $12
Purchase Day Pass (all screenings + discussion): General $25 | YIVO and MCNY Members $20

“The difference is that I really want to exploit film language, I want to really drive you down with your own fears, your own fantasies...this narrative [of home videos] is not necessarily telling you what to think. This is a floating, contemplative work that allows us to relive our demons, and reveal our fantasies, and join in this journey.”
—Péter Forgács

Do home movies offer a new way of understanding our past and present? In this program, award-winning filmmaker Péter Forgács joins film scholar Bill Nichols to discuss his decades-long attempt to create a new cinematic language using home movies; the importance of using film to reveal suppressed or “forbidden” history; and why he thinks focusing on the stories of individuals is ultimately a political act.

Péter Forgács is an internationally award-winning media artist and filmmaker, with works in several museums and public collections around the world. Having created more than forty films and media installations, Forgács is best known for his "Private Hungary" series, a series of award-winning films based on European home movies from the 1920s and 80s, which document ordinary lives ruptured by historical trauma. As a filmmaker, Forgács has received numerous international awards, including the Tribeca Film Festival Docu Award in 2005; the SIFF Golden Gate Award in 1999; and the Prix Europa, Berlin in 1997. In 2000-2001, Forgács was awarded the artist-in-residence at The Getty Museum/Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, where he created The Danube Exodus installation in collaboration with The Labyrinth Project (USC). In 2007, he was awarded the prestigious Dutch Erasmus Prize for his notable contributions to European culture, and in 2009, represented Hungary at the Venice Biennale, exhibiting the Col Tempo-The W. Project installation. In 2013, Forgács created Looming Fire—Stories from the Dutch East Indies installation, about Dutch colonial quotidian life for EYE, the Dutch Film Museum. Letters to Afar is his most recent project, and was commissioned by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw and the YIVO Institute in New York.

Bill Nichols is a highly acclaimed film critic and theoretician, recognized for his pioneering work as founder of the contemporary study of documentary film. His book, Introduction to Documentary (Indiana University Press) is the most widely used textbook on the subject. Nichols is the author of numerous books including, Engaging Cinema (W. W. Norton & Company), Blurred Boundaries (Indiana University Press), and Ideology and the Image (Indiana University Press); and editor of Cinema's Alchemist: The Films of Péter Forgács (University Of Minnesota Press). Nichols has lectured internationally and served on film juries at the International Documentary Film Festival, Amsterdam; and the Documentary Film Festival, Seoul, among others. He lives in San Francisco where he writes and serves as a consultant to filmmakers.
Venue: YIVO Institute at the Center for Jewish History  |  15 West 16th Street - NYC   view map

For directions and parking information, click here.

All public programs are wheelchair accessible. A limited number of assistive listening devices are available for deaf and hard of hearing individuals upon request.