Hungary Today had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with renowned documentary film maker and director Zoltán Moys, whose cultural travel show ’Hazajáró’ (’Home-runner’), which is screened on Hungarian public television on a weekly basis, won the 2017 Prima Primissima Audience Award.
’Home-runner’ gets on its boots every week to range through the magnificent landscapes of the Carpathian Basin, in order to get acquainted with natural and cultural values, the built historical heritage, and the everyday life of inhabitants of the historic homeland of Hungarians. Their road leads through Transsylvania, Upper-Hungary (Slovakia), Carpathian Ukraine, Vojvodina, Moravia, Burgenland and inner Hungary, sometimes by foot or by wagon, sometimes by bike or by canoe. From the majestic ridges of the Carpathian Mountains and colossal castle ruins through little wooden churches and bloody battlefields to small, sleepy towns – the never-ending road of the “Homerunner” is accompanied by plenty of Hungarian memories.
This interview has been edited for clarity and concision, and translated from the original Hungarian.
In 2017, the show Hazajáró (‘Home-runner’) won the Prima Primissima audience award. How did it feel to accept the award from E. Sylvester Vizi, chairman of the board of the Friends of Hungary Foundation? What does this recognition mean for the show’s creators, and how does the award speak to the show’s viewers?
As I said at the award ceremony, this was an incredible honor for us. It felt very good to win, with the Prima Primissima, the award that is most valuable to us, the audience award. We work, first and foremost, for our viewers, and this was a wonderful response from them that we are on the right track. It seems that the message, the ethos, the spirituality, the imagery that we present in our show has struck a chord with a great many people. First and foremost, then, I would like to thank our viewers. This award was an important moment in the history of Hazajáró. It also comes with great responsibility, since it shows that many people are paying attention to us. For this reason, going forward, we hope to do our work with even greater élan, humility, and precision.
Let’s jump back a bit. The show was launched in October of 2011, and there have been over 200 episodes filmed since then. What was the inspiration for the show, how did this concept come about, and how did you make it onto the air?
Even before the show, some of the members of our group were already “Home-runners.” In our free time we traveled quite a lot around the Carpathian Basin, mainly hiking trips. Alongside the beautiful mountains we encountered historical memories, our built historical heritage, cultural sights, and local Hungarian communities. We made many friends and had countless adventures. This experience gave so much to us, that we decided to introduce it to others in the form of a TV show, so that they might see why it’s good to be a ‘Hazajáró.’ We were already working in media, when the stars aligned and a spot opened up for our planned show at Duna TV. We are grateful that, for six years running, MTVA has given us this opportunity, and this platform. From the beginning, we built our show on the following three pillars: natural wonders, built cultural heritage, and local communities. While our job is naturally easier in Hungary proper, we have had incredible experiences in Hungarian communities abroad as well. We’ve been to places where, not only has there never been a camera crew, it’s also possible that tourists have never even set foot there before. We have the opportunity to showcase regions, people, and communities that people have never been curious about before.
How do preparations for a single episode look? How much time does it take, what does the technical execution of filming look like?
First, hunched over a map, we think about where it is we want to go. At the beginning, we sought out spots that we had already been without a camera, but at this point there’s very few such spots left, and so now we go to increasingly remote areas. We receive many invitations as well: many people are proud of their hometowns, and would like us to showcase the region where they live.
As a first step, we find local people who are the “engines” of local knowledge, local history, and nature, who are also key to the continued existence of the local Hungarian community. In addition to getting in touch with people, we undertake thorough research in order to discover what would be worth visiting in a particular area. Our main concept focuses on smaller regions, ones that formed organically, over the course of centuries, on a geographical, cultural, or historical basis. In our show, we also endeavor to quote from famous Hungarians, and discuss what they experienced in a given region decades or centuries ago.
Researching these resources also takes a great deal of time. Generally it takes about 2-3 days to film an episode, but a filming trip generally takes longer than this, since we shoot 2-3 episodes while on the road. One of the central points of filming is always a hike, which is a rather intense test of strength, one which is greatly influenced by terrain and weather conditions. While filming, every trail takes much longer than it would if one were hiking without a camera.
Finding cultural institutions (for example, getting into a temple, or getting permission to film inside a historic landmark) isn’t simple either, especially in regions where Hungarians no longer live. When introduce a local community, we are not looking first and foremost for an “official” view, but rather authentic “Hungarian life”; in other words, those people who carry the reality of their organic culture with them in their everyday lives. Showcasing this everyday life, this “silent struggle,” is one of the main goals of our show.
Filming is followed by editing work, which is likewise not an easy task, since we have to whittle down 4-5 hours to just 26 minutes. Our colleague Zoltán Farkas barely leaves the editing room. Generally, six of us go out to film, and over the years our crew has been forged into a true community of comradery. In addition to our two “hazajáró” hosts (Oszkár Kenyeres, who also takes part in editing, and Sándor Jakab from Upper Hungary [the region of Slovakia inhabited by a sizeable Hungarian minority]), I would single out the exceptionally difficult work done by our cameraman (Dávid Schödl) and our sound engineer (József Tóth). Our team is further strengthened by our driver-technician colleague, who first and foremost helps out with logistical issues, while I try to pull together the production as a whole. Hazajáró’s crew is made up of people who not only put their eyes, ears, and mouths into the production, but their souls as well.
In the course of your work, have you run into any unusual or noteworthy difficulties in regions of the Carpathian Basin that have never been inhabited by Hungarians?
Naturally it’s harder to work in areas where there isn’t a shared linguistic or national identity. The amount of ethnic tensions and national conflicts that have filled the Carpathian Basin over the course of the 20th century are well-known. Generally, though, we only notice this on the larger, political level, and occasionally in cities, where the negative trends that go hand-in-hand with urban life can be seen. In the countryside, in tiny villages, we have never encountered a negative attitude toward Hungarians. In fact, everywhere we have been welcomed with great enthusiasm. People respect and value that a Hungarian film crew wants to show how locals live. We always look for the values of communities living organically in the local soil, and for this reason we have showcased Ruthenian and Slovak communities as well.
Anyone, who feels at home in a given region and who is capable of taking care of it, who can live together without exploiting or crippling it, have a place in the region regardless of nationality. If we want to look for dividing lines, we won’t find them between nationalities, but rather between individuals’ modes of thought. We regularly notice that, the more isolated of a place we go to, the more positive personalities we come into contact with. Many people in isolated regions, even today, live lives rooted in tradition, which go beyond the pursuit of wealth, and which carry eternal values in them. At the same time, whenever we visit a larger settlement, we see the spread of globalization and the materialist, consumerist society that goes along with it. We love regions where we can find communities living in harmony with the natural world.
Could you mention one or two memorably positive or negative filming experiences?
We are now past the 200 episode mark, meaning that we have had tons of adventures and experiences. We have had many more positive ones than negative ones. The greatest experiences are those when we find Hungarians in areas where we didn’t expect to do so.
One example of this is the little village of Maradék [‘Remainder’], which is located even beyond the Kingdom of Hungary’s historical borders, at the foot of the mountain Fruška Gora in northern Serbia, whose very name is quite revealing. When we visited the settlement there was no longer a minister to oversee spiritual life and hold the Hungarian community together. We found just one old married couple, who told us, in tears, that in this southern region Hungarians are going to die out. There were tears in our eyes as we said goodbye to Uncle Géza and his wife. Nevertheless, later we heard that, thanks in part to our show, a minster agreed to take on the responsibility of serving the village. Now, there is a Hungarian House in the village, and ever-more people are returning to their roots. There, they actually succeeded in pulling the breaks on assimilation and emigration.
The difficulties we encounter are generally physical ones. The Parâng Mountains, located in the southern Carpathians, is what first comes to mind. There, we went on a winter hike and ended up in a snowstorm, meaning that we had no chance of reaching the 2519-meter peak. We spent our night in a ramshackle stone ‘shelter’. Before sleeping, though, we had to move meters of snow just to be able to get into the shelter. Filming this struggle required great emotional strength, and was a trying task. We weathered the below-zero temperatures of the night, but even this bore fruit: we received many positive responses from our viewers, they appreciated that we were showing not just sunny mountain peaks, but difficulties and mountaineering failures as well. There has never been a filming where there weren’t moving or difficult moments, and these adventures have really brought our team together.
What are your future plans? How long will the show continue, what ideas do you still have in your saddle-bag?
We always used to say that “the path of the ‘Home-runner’ is endless.” The more places we go to, the more we realize how many undiscovered treasures there still are in the Carpathian Basin. We will continue to do the show as long as state media gives us the opportunity to do so. We feel that this “home-runner” is starting to become a sort of lifestyle, which goes far beyond the show.
One result of this is the ‘Hazajáró’ Homeland Studies and Tourist Club, which operates in symbiosis with the show. From the beginning, our main goal was to get our viewers out of the house, so that rather than just sitting on the couch watching the show, they get up and hit the road as we have. It seems that this has come to pass, this desire was what brought the Club into being as well, which, we hope, will carry on the spirit of the show long after there are no new episodes. Our studio is also working on other projects, and will continue to work in the future, but will do so under the same principles that have informed Hazajáró.
Are you thinking about exploring Hungarian regions outside of the Carpathian Basin?
Definitely, partially because we have gotten so much feedback from across the Atlantic. We have held, and are planning, a number of Hazajáró meetups, film-screenings, and talks, both at home and abroad. Combining business with pleasure, we plan on brining cameras with us as well.
Many people have told us stories about how they, or their ancestors, were from a region that we visited in the show. There were some, who had never themselves been in their ancestors’ home regions, and watched the show with tears in their eyes. Others, inspired by Hazajáró, hit the road and went back to Hungary, for a longer or shorter time, from the opposite side of the world. We would like to produce a film about Hungarians living in the western diaspora as well, since we know that there are Hungarians all over the world who hold on to their roots, who proudly preserve and pass on their language and culture. This is a very important mission as well, this is why we view showcasing these communities as a great challenge. At the same time, this is a serious responsibility as well, since we don’t want to lose sight of our most important goal, the preservation of Hungarian communities in the Carpathian basin. There are huge differences between individual generations’ emigration stories; for example, in the last few decades, economic issues have come to the fore. For our part, we would not like to, even accidentally, push anyone to leave their homeland. In fact, the opposite is true! It is my belief that the road to the future lies in building a livable Hungary and a livable Carpathian Basin, where it is worthwhile to stay here and live as a Hungarian. In this building, we are counting on those living as emigres as well, since they can help Hungarian causes even from afar.
Many people living abroad, whose ancestors left Hungary generations ago, don’t speak Hungarian well enough to follow the show without difficulty. Perhaps it would help the international reputation of Hungary and its neighboring countries if Hazajáró were released with foreign subtitles as well. What do you think?
Yes, this would be an important mission! On individual occasions and screenings we have already added subtitles, but we haven’t gotten to the translation of the bulk of our episodes. Our resources of limited, but if there were significant demand we would definitely move in this direction.
Outside of Duna TV, where can those interested view old and new episodes of Hazajáró?
Where is Hazajáró headed next?
We’re near the end of the year now, the last episode of this season will be released on December 30th. Generally, at this time we take a look back at some of the greatest moments of the past year, and we are currently working on such an episode.
Our next trip is probably going to be to Upper Hungary [in Slovakia], maybe to the Pohronský Inovec mountain range. In the spring we’ll be heading to the Apuseni Mountains in Transylvania and to Zakarpattia Oblast in Ukraine, as well as to a spot that has long been a dream of ours: we are preparing to film an episode in Bukovina on the forgotten world of the Rarău and Giumalău Mountains, and the Szeklers of Bukovina.
reporting by Tamás Székely
translated by Tom Szigeti
images: Hungary Today and Home-runner