The Paths of Life KIX by Balint REVESZ, David MIKULAN
2024-05-05 11:50:00Hits 283
25th JEONJU International Film Festival (2024)

Can cinema record a person’s life? For more than ten years, the directors of this documentary followed Sanyi, a boy at the beginning of the film, through his dangerous street adventures in the city of Budapest, showing a way of life that is as free as it is worrying. The young protagonist’s arrival into adolescence will be accompanied by an event that will change his life forever. We spoke to Bálint Révész, the co-director of the documentary.


How and when was your first meeting with this boy, Sanyi, and his family?

Back in 2011, we spotted something unusual occurring on a public square in Budapest: three kids were climbing over a bridge railing that spans the Danube. The three of them walked up to us, borrowed our skateboards and we started talking. Sanyi was no older than eight and already had a remarkably mature mode of thinking about the complexities and contradictions of our adult world. It was at this point we started to document his life on a regular basis. As art students, we also created an artistic collective with the kids. They allowed us to enter into their world and at the same time, they secured a chance to look into ours. It has always been our primary aim to avoid any sense of inferiority-superiority between us and them due to a difference in age or cultural background. 


What came first, the idea of a film following the lives of particular people during a long period of time, or the idea taking shape as you were recording? 

During those younger years of mine, Dávid was basically filming everything. He always had his camera with him. His skate videos became more and more experimental. The social aspect interested us as well because we just met so many people on those streets. We almost stopped filming when they got older. We lost one another because they stopped skating and were in their own little world. But they only lived three blocks away so we would still show up at their flat and the friendship continued. During that time, Dávid started to do more research, learning new techniques of filming. In terms of Sanyi, what I noticed is that he didn’t care about the camera so much—in other words, it wasn’t really a “thing” between us; They weren’t that media-savvy to begin with. We did not want to over-control things. We were looking for locations and situations where they could freely move and create their own world. 


The film is divided into two parts. In the first, the protagonist is an 8-year-old boy and in the second part, we meet him again as a 15-year-old teenager. What happened in that period? Did you continue filming Sanyi and his family but you did not use that material in the film, or did you meet them again after so long?

In the first period, Sanyi reaches 12 or 13 so there was only a 2-year gap which is missing from the film visually. However, Dávid shot so much during the first period that we eventually decided to skip the pre-puberty from the edit cause it felt too repetitive. It took a long time to figure out how people read Sanyi’s age on screen but in general, we wanted to be free from total rigid chronology.


I imagine that you have recorded many hours of material. How was the editing work on the film? Was it something you did as you filmed, or if not, can you tell us about what it was like? It is a film that, despite taking such a long period of time, not only has a very short duration, but even seems to last less than its actual duration.

There were more than 200 hours of materials to work from. Not to mention the street footage Dávid accumulated before he had started filming Sanyi. The editing started as COVID-19 became part of our lives so it was kind of a happy coincidence that we would have had to stay inside anyway but with KIX we had a purpose. That first batch took about five months on and off. We were really free in this first period. We went through each day of shooting and started putting together scenes based on chronology, themes, and characters. We ended up with a 3.5-hour long cut which we took to Károly Szalay, one of the editors of the film, and with him, we shaved it down to 100 minutes. This version was totally free of any restrictions like copyright, issues related to the court case, etc. Then this assembly cut was brought to Yaël Bitton, the other editor of the film with whom we started the whole process and went through all the materials again and built another 100-minute long version which was accepted by one of the main funders of the film, ARTE, and this will be the version broadcasted by them. Eventually, we went on and did a last bit of editing which is the version brought to the JEONJU IFF and that is the version that will be on HBO Max. As a result, we edited it for nearly 80 weeks which sounds mental. 


How do you follow lives so closely and for so long and at the same time without trying, I suppose, to intervene or become part of those lives? What kind of responsibility did you feel towards them?

The relationship we maintained with the family wasn’t just observational; we have nurtured a very inclusive connection with them. Initially, while only Dávid was shooting he was not focusing on the family, he was interested in the games and fun the kids had and the mutual play was the foundation of the relationship. This, due to the main character’s performance at school and the rearrangement of the family situation, was reordered along a helper-needy dynamic. The lack of interest associated with adolescence and the rejection of all previous relationships also contributed to this. The connection was built around solving the main character’s problems. The following period was determined by the renovation of the family home, joint studies, and the monitoring of school performance. Finally, after Sanyi carelessly and accidentally set fire to a building, as a result of which a person lost his life, the relationship changed radically again. In light of the new situation, we, in order to preserve our own mental health, stopped actively helping and remained present as friends and curious observers. It turned out that the mere presence and availability of us is the core, the most important element of the help. In this last period, we were overwhelmed and puzzled by the question of whether we could have done anything more to prevent it.


Did you share with Sanyi what you were recording about his life? To what extent was he aware that you were making a documentary about his life?

We were totally transparent about it. I guess he was filmed from such an early age it became natural to him. Even though Dávid didn’t know that he would be filming Sanyi for another 13 years, he kind of felt it and communicated it towards the kids even during the early years. Sanyi has been disinterested in the film. It took us years to even show some parts of it to him and eventually, I had to trick him and “lure” him into a cinema to make sure he watched the film before the premiere. But then, it really was shocking to him, imagine watching yourself growing up in 90 minutes with all the embarrassing stuff visible. Eventually, he agreed to get the film shown but was really specific about that he doesn’t want to get involved at this stage. 


I want to ask you about the terrible fire that marks the end of the film. What was your first reaction at that moment?

We were totally shocked. Sanyi’s mother called me up a week after the accident and said that Sanyi needs a lawyer and she needs help with that. Dávid had felt it intuitively as you can see in the film; he kind of felt that Sanyi had something to do with the dormitory fire. We had really mixed feelings: destroyed, responsible, betrayed, and powerless. It took us a good couple of months to decide that we have to keep on going and giving up at this point would actually be the worst for Sanyi cause we had to show that he’s a good guy and it was just a teenage mistake which happens to all of us. Obviously, we would never know what would have happened in the parallel universe where we didn’t film Sanyi. Primarily this relationship was/is based on a friendship, not on the observer-observant connection, and during the last 13 years there always was an intention of showing an alternative. I usually say to Dávid if all people, who come from solid and secure family backgrounds, had their own Sanyi, our world would be a better place.


At the end of the film, unlike most documentaries about a person’s life, there are no further explanations about what happened to Sanyi. Did you stay in contact with him, do you know how his life continues?

Absolutely we’re still in contact. We didn’t want to clarify what happened to Sanyi and provide a clear ending like you do this and then this happens. We wanted to strengthen the ambivalence and trigger the audience members to look into themselves and measure their own responsibility in the context of the societies they come from. Sanyi kind of reformed himself, he moved away to a household without alcoholics, proposed to his girlfriend, found a decent job, and most likely pays more tax than we do. In some ways, he has broken the patterns inherited from his family. 

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