Hungary’s National Film Institute, marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of poet-revolutionary, Sándor Petőfi, is set to make a large-scale movie with an extensive budget never before seen in the country. Pro-Fidesz opinion leader, Philip Rákay, received a total of HUF 4.5 billion (EUR 12.7 million) for the movie. The decision, however, definitely raised some eyebrows, as no Hungarian film project has ever received this much funding, and Rákay has never been involved in movie-making.
According to the National Film Institute (NFI), the financial backer of the film, titled Now or Never! [referring to Petőfi’s famous revolutionary poem, “National Song”] will need a complex set of extensive proportions to be built in NFI’s studios in Fót (just outside Budapest), as several spots and buildings of the period have to be reconstructed from scratch. The shooting will take 106 days in total, starting in April and involving thousands of extras and some 200 voiced actors. According to the plans, it will be released in 2023.
FactSándor Petőfi, Hungary’s national poet and liberal revolutionary, was born on January 1, 1823. He is considered one of the key figures of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. The 19th-century freedom fighter is the author of the “Nemzeti dal“ (“National Song”), which is said to have inspired the revolution that grew into a war for independence from the Austrian Empire. Despite several rumors, it is most likely that he died on the July 31, 1849 in the Battle of Segesvár (Sighișoara), one of the last encounters of the war, which Hungary eventually lost against Habsburg-ally Russia’s army. Several programs and productions are set to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth next year.
The movie will be based on the screenplay by Philip Rákay, Vajk Szente, and Márk Kis-Szabó, and directed by Balázs Lóth, while Rákay will be the film’s producer, too.
Just as the news was made public, it caused some uproar. Jászai-prized theater director, founder of Krétakör community, Árpád Schilling, for example, highlighted that Rákay has never been involved in making artistic productions, “…yet now he has more money to satisfy his sudden desires than any Hungarian filmmaker has ever received over the last 100 years.”
He also pointed out that with this amount at least 10 normal budget Hungarian films could be made, and predicts the movie to be forgotten and overlooked soon in addition to financial loss. “What will be left is the huge, unashamedly huge salaries. New houses, estates, stables [reference to recent press reports about Rákay’s luxurious lifestyle], and swimming pools will be built. Philip Rákay and his closest friends will make hundreds of millions from this party, and they don’t care that the film itself will simply disappear in a year or two, never to be remembered, not even by those who helped to make it,” he argued.
FactPhilip Rákay (50), born Kálmán Rákay, became well-known as one of the presenters of Hungary’s first music channel, Viva. Amid a business career in communications, it was back in 2002 when he first stood up publicly by Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. Ever since, he has also fulfilled various positions in and around the communications of Fidesz and/or within the Fidesz-led governments. More recently, he has been involved with transmitting ruling Fidesz’s political messages on social media. He is one of the influencers of Megafon, a ‘center’ designed to propagate “conservative voices” on social media. While in its introduction, Megafon claims that it doesn’t “want to tell you what to think,” it still exclusively repeats the Fidesz-led government’s political messages, with hundreds of millions of forints coming from unknown sources (according to Megafon, from donations).
Perhaps somewhat in reaction to the criticism, Rákay explained the background in an interview with Fidesz-linked Index. “Nominally this is the biggest amount, but in real terms, I don’t think so,” he said about the high costs, also promising that the movie won’t be a Fidesz campaign movie. He says he hopes that the movie will be an “important crown jewel” of the 2023 Petőfi Memorial Year.
He also lambasted the Hungarian film industry, which he says was “a very enclosed world,” and “for many decades was all about how to weave a social web of “grand old men” around themselves and their students with state money.” Rákay himself admitted that there were actors who had declined to appear in the movie due to his involvement.