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Interview with ‘Symphony No. 42’ director Réka Bucsi

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One of the highlights of this year’s festival circuit has been the cosmic, surreal short film Symphony no 42. Created by Hungarian animator Réka Bucsi in her graduate year at MOME (Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design Budapest), the globally-screened film is a mixed patchwork of seemingly-unrelated short sequences, stitched together by Réka’s unique and whimsical style. We were able to have a little time to talk to Réka between festival visits and working on her new short film.

Can you explain the choice and significance of the title Symphony No. 42?

When I made the film it sometimes felt rather more like composing than directing. What seemed to be small particles on their own, later formed a bigger, more logical system. The number 42 is a magical number; It has a central role in mathematics and is the number of many other random things. It seems almost as if it would be some kind of a mystical number, which stands out from the crowd, but in fact I believe it is completely built on coincidence. It means all and nothing in the same time. This is similar to how I feel about the film, and many other things that happen to me.

How did you set about creating all the film’s individual sequences, was there a plan or was it a stream-of-consciousness project?

In the beginning I started up with a lot of writing and sketching. It was very intuitive. There were many small ideas and details in sound, colour, rhythm, characters and atmosphere. It took me a while to sort out and build these scenes into a system, and arrange them around these irrational connections between human and nature. I created associative scenes and involved the sound designer from the beginning of the process. After the animatic was done, I edited a bunch of scenes. It was a constant shaping process, from writing to final design I always added small details and ideas to make it coherent.

This was your graduate project from MOME, how was your experience there and how did you develop the film while there?

At MOME we are supposed to do our Master’s Projects on our own. The idea behind this is that the MA program of MOME is focused on teaching individual filmmakers and the project should work as an individual portfolio. So almost everyone does writing, design, animatic and layout on their own and directs the whole process. Every year the projects get a small amount of support from the Hungarian National Film Fund, so we are allowed to use this budget for whatever we need. I spent most of it on sound and studio, and hired some animators as well.

We also work with students, who help out in small parts of the animation, or coloring. They work as interns for school credits. This way they often study the software or animation through the project. I worked at the school, near to my animators, this way it was faster to control the process,and hold the film together. It was an intense experience in terms of directing and learning to process feedback in a way that would be productive for the film.

The film has a very cosmic, dreamlike feel to it and from what I can gather the film is about how seemingly unrelated events can somehow be – or seem to be – linked, what inspired this?

I am inspired by so many things around me. People, animals, nature, music, films. It is very organic and hard to describe. I like to go backwards and not start up with a general big topic but build up something from details. I believe that serious topics are very hard to discuss in a serious tone. I don’t like to take myself seriously, I observe and associate instinctively, as everybody else does. The film is based on this intuitive reaction of people, to have the need to explain and form a context around what they see or experience. The viewer can see all these small scenes and build up the universe slowly as the film is evolving. I feel it is all about irrationality versus all, with everything being connected and seeming to have a destiny. I tried to stay out with my opinion as much as possible, and rather show the situation, not point out brutality or happiness in too didactic a way.

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There are a number of recurring images in the film like the fox, the eye, forest and woodland creatures feature heavily though out, are there any reasons or links behind this?

I played around a lot in design and writing. I think the fox in the end is not the same fox which is there in the beginning. I think randomness is beautiful and very hard to achieve. I try to have the experience of the unpredictable, but find a balance and stay close to a strict system. The eye in the triangle represents many things, but a symbol only turns into one when we invest it with a meaning. In this case I let the fox know what he’s doing. For me the drawing represents a mixture of religion, science and different mythical symbols. “The answer to the question which cannot be asked”. It is craved in the universe and it seems no one can actually deal with or talk about it.

There is a beautiful style to this film and all of your work, leaning toward textured and simplified shapes. Where have you taken your influences from?

I don’t feel that my work is influenced by other works too heavily. I am sure it is, but I like to be focused on my own document when I am drawing. I remember I got to know some great French illustrators at the time I was developing Symphony. I liked the fragile clean style of some pictures. It felt right to work with clean shapes, thin lines. I just wanted to show the lines and shapes which are needed and not more. I was sketching like this for a while. I tried to work with a much more rough design as well, but I am very happy I didn’t go for that in the end, as the scenes completely lost their absurdity and surreality. I had to find a way to draw a world which was stylised, but realistic enough to keep the viewer involved.

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As well as doing very well on the festival circuit the film is also in the shortlist for an Oscar nomination, what are your thoughts/feelings about this?

It was very unexpected, and in a weird way I am still not used to the fact that it got on the shortlist. I am grateful, and happy that the film could reach so many people. It is a very fulfilling experience.

You now work at the Animation Workshop in Denmark, what are you developing there and how are you finding it?

I love being here, I will miss it very much when it will be over. There is huge support in being able to have a nice work space and share it with so many different animation people. I learn a lot from them, and look forward to collaborating on some projects. I am developing my new short film here.

Are you able to tell us anything about Love, your new short?

It is in the development stage, currently I am editing the animatic, doing some design work and whatever I enjoy in this early phase of production. It will be a French/Hungarian co-production. I am very excited about it, it is going to be finished around October 2015.

You can follow the success and festival run – which includes being recently selected for Sundance 2015 – of Symphony no 42 on the dedicated Facebook page here.

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@lewisheriz
Lewis Heriz
@themooks @skwigly Yeah! That's when it becomes << actual magic >>
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James Howard
@lewisheriz @skwigly That first time you see it move is such a buzz and then you add sound and it just enters a whole new stratosphere.
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@lewisheriz
Lewis Heriz
@themooks @skwigly I know it's kind of obvious, but I used to see it as 'important but secondary'. I don't see it as secondary any more.
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@themooks
James Howard
@lewisheriz @skwigly Sound does bring it to life.
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