Hungary’s National Film Institute Filmlab Aims High

Hungary’s National Film Institute Filmlab is positioning itself to become Europe’s go-to facility for 35mm post-production, processing and restoration. Working alongside the NFI Archive — which is moving ahead with an ambitious program of classic film restoration — the Filmlab aims to be a “one-stop shop for digital, analog, VFX, digital restoration and color grading” according to its head, Tamás Bódizs.

Bódizs, who was appointed director six months ago, nine years after he first joined the lab, started his film industry career as a television editor. Film is his passion, he says, and putting Hungary on the map as the go-to location for advanced analog work is a goal the lab has been working towards in recent years.

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“This idea is one I share with the former director. We know we can do analog processing, and want to be known for this throughout Europe,” he says.

The lab has spent “hundreds of thousands of euros” on state-of-the-art analog processing machinery (he says the precise figure is under wraps for commercial reasons), and this has been a key factor in attracting both classic film restoration jobs and recent high-profile 35mm jobs for top European brands that include Gucci and Versace.

With a staff of around 40, including many experienced analog technicians — and plans to recruit and train a new, younger generation of specialists — the NFI Filmlab has the capacity to restore between 16-18 full-length features a year. They also have plans to transfer all new Hungarian digital films to analog for preservation purposes.

“Using specialist Kodak negatives, we can transfer digital films to analog copies that can last 500 years. In terms of preservation, although initially expensive, this is cheaper than having to constantly update digital every time a new technology emerges. And there is no need for electricity — all one needs is a dry, secure room for storage,” Bódizs says.

The lab’s expertise is already being put to good use by the NFI Archive, which is going ahead with a restoration program that has already resulted in an international film festival — the Budapest Classic Film Marathon, that launched last September. One of its newly restored films, György Fehér’s 1989 child serial killer thriller, “Twilight” (Szürkület), features in the Berlinale’s Classics program this year.

György Ráduly, director of the NFI Archive, noted that preserving “122 years of Hungarian cinema” was a major task for an archive that cared for “one of the most important collections in Europe.”

“We are preserving the totality of the remaining Hungarian feature and non-feature films since the early silent period until today,” Ráduly says. “We are also handling important photo, film poster, object and document collections.” With a heritage that includes some of the earliest pioneers of cinema — such as Adolph Zukor, and Alexander and Zoltán Korda — that task to “preserve, restore and present” this heritage is worldwide.

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