Meet Simon Broughton and his latest film project Fly Bird Fly: The Hungarian Dance House Story, taking an in-depth look into the intersection of music and politics in Eastern Europe, coming right in time for this year's WOMEX 20 Digital Edition ft. Budapest Ritmo.
How did this project come about? Simon Broughton: I have been visiting Hungary on and off since 1978, so quite a long time. At the time, there was this folk music and dance house revival movement taking place, on which the film is based. Back then, I sort of took this music movement for granted. It was only many years later with a much broader perspective that I realized it was quite an exceptional and unique scene- a real grassroots movement from the bottom up and not a state-imposed thing. There was nothing equivalent in other countries of the Eastern Bloc.So I thought it would be interesting to make a film documenting the movement involving the key people who were part of it in the beginning and those who are active today. What I also find interesting is that generations later, this music scene is being interpreted by Poland through their very own music. So even 40 years later, the movement is influential. I also wanted to look at the political impact the scene had - it never really began as a political movement but played its part in regime change and indeed even bringing down the Berlin Wall. It’s politics, it’s music and it’s history and I like those sorts of combinations in projects. The film was shown on TV in Hungary in September and it seems people liked it.
Would you share some lesson(s) you learnt while shooting the film. Simon Broughton: *Laughs* The lesson I learnt is that I should smile more often when I am on camera.In the film, there are some shots of me lurking around Budapest in which I look rather grumpy. So yes, next time I need to smile more.
Tell us a bit about your creative process and your approach to the film. Simon Broughton: There is a myriad of ways of filmmaking. I am from the school of filmmakers, who write the story before, then goes out and films it. I do an outline, and then I shoot following that structure for the film. Of course with documentary films, one needs to think a bit broader since you never know how an interview will turn out, what kind of shot you get- so one needs to prepare to have more space and material to be able to manoeuvre around the uncertainties. With this film, I knew the outline of the story from beginning to end, I knew a lot of the characters involved, and so I was quite prepared in planning the shots. But also had my safeguards so I could change direction and keep things fluid when needed.
Could you share any interesting anecdotes while making the film? Simon Broughton: What I really enjoyed while making the film was working with a very skilled and enthusiastic team of people. Since I am not a Hungarian speaker, it was great to have Balázs from Hangveto as the assistant director. We had a fantastic local cameraman Gergo Somogyvari. What was nice is that he didn't know anything about the dance house scene and as we went further into the shoot, he developed an interest in this scene and opened his eyes to something in his own country that he wasn't aware of. And in a way I guess that's the point of the film. I mean it is slightly odd for an English guy to come to Hungary to make a film about Hungarian music for the Hungarian people. In a way, I was asked to make the film, since I had a broader perspective - being from the outside, I could see what was happening around other regions in Eastern Europe. As a filmmaker, I was able to put the scene in Hungary alongside what was happening around in other countries like Russia, the Czech Republic and compare it. Plus the other subjects I have worked on in the past – in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have combined the idea of politics reflected through music.
Szék, one of the most famous villages in Transylvania is where the music originally came from that inspired the whole dance house music movement. I had been there several times in the 1980s, and I had an extraordinary experience at these incredible weddings and parties I attended. We were able to find a wedding that was happening, arrived to film it, and it was a big disappointment. The scene as it was has frankly gone and moved on. It certainly is true that in the years I've been visiting Transylvania, I've seen a living tradition turned into a preserved tradition, which is sad. And that is, of course happening all over the world.
Has making a music-related documentary been different from your other projects? Simon Broughton: Not really. Most of my work looks at ideas from a political and historical perspective – be it a music-related project or otherwise. It is so vital to share correct information in this age of misinformation.Until you hear people’s stories, you don't quite know how the film is going to evolve.
Any new projects you are working on that you would like to share. Simon Broughton: Right before the pandemic hit, I was able to finish another film on Bergen-Belsen, a former concentration camp in northern Germany that was liberated by the British Army. I’ve just finished a lockdown project. Six,12 minute profiles of Polish bands. Interviews in Zoom format with videos cut in. Something creative out of this enforced shut down.
What music are you listening to right now? Simon Broughton Well, I am always listening to all sorts of sounds. Last night I revisited the music of Cheikh Lo, a Senegalese songwriter and percussionist. I've known his music for years- what an extraordinary musician - a bit of an eccentric and maverick kind of cool character. I also have been listening to this Finnish Band, Pauanne, that I really like- that are doing exciting things with archive music and then building their own sound around it in provocative ways. They played at the opening of last year’s WOMEX in Tampere.
In what or where do you find hope in these current times? Simon Broughton I love travelling and being outdoors, which of course is not easy in these times. I did somehow manage to get to Mallorca in the summer and the north of Italy. And had a fantastic twelve days walking in the Dolomites- a real joy. I am certainly slightly depressed by the way travel is going to become more and more complicated and we will have to stay local for a while. Having said that Britain is also a very beautiful country and I have certainly enjoyed exploring places in and outside of London this year. With this enforced lockdown, I've also finally got down to exploring my collection of books and music that I wanted to for years.
Is there anything I'm not asking you that you always wish people would ask you about the film? Simon Broughton: Budapest’s trams are used as a filmic device. I wish people would ask for details of where to get the best tram shots. In fact trams are filmically very useful. I’ve used then in films I’ve done on Tchaikovsky (St Petersburg), Fado (Lisbon) and Operetta (Vienna and Budapest). I even got one into the Belsen film!
What do you hope WOMEXicans take away from the film? Simon Broughton: I think it is remarkable to see what happened in Hungary not only for those interested in music from the country but also the political side of thing. The film shows how important music is in politics and in being a force of change. And actually given the circumstances of what was going and is going on in Hungary, one sees that music plays a crucial part in country’s development. Of course, Hungary has this dodgy reputation given their nationalistic leader. And somehow there is an idea that the people who are part of the dance house music scene are also nationalist. In my experience, that is not true - they are very open to music from other countries and to the whole world music scene, which is not nationalistic at all. [Though the film it was necessary to show that there is plenty of opposition to what's politically happening in Hungary.] I also deliberately choose not to show just Hungarian music but also involved Gypsy, Yugoslavian and other types of music that are part of the scene. So it's overturning some of the stereotypes of Hungary and also to show that traditional music can have a political impact. I hope that comes across to the viewers of the film.
WATCH FILM HERE FROM THE 15-25 OCTOBER 2020 WITH YOUR WOMEX 20 DIGITAL REGISTRATION.