TORN FROM THE FLAG

Today we are commemorating the 1956 Hungarian Freedom Fight. This revolution was the first catalyst for the future decline of the communist system, and a remarkable turning point for the advancement of democracy. I happen to make an 8-time-award-winning film about it, titled TORN FROM THE FLAG.

After years in preparation, the new documentary film TORN FROM THE FLAG [A lyukas zászló] about the fall of Communism and the far-reaching effects of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution has finally reached the point of completion. There is still work to be done as far as marketing, publicity, entry to various festivals, the Oscar® race, other important competitions and administrative work that may still take months to complete, depending on receiving the necessary funds, e.g. donations.

I saw TORN FROM THE FLAG yesterday. One single screening may be less than I would prefer as an ideal
preparation to write about a creation of this magnitude. I will still attempt to do my best. First, I examine the facts and then I present my impressions and emotional reaction. The Producer-Director-Writer, Klaudia Kovács, a young lady from the ancient town of Eger in Hungary, was born decades after the events portrayed in the film, after the ‘flag was torn.’ She has no personal memories of those times. After her teen years, she left Hungary and settled in Los Angeles, with the will and passion to become a “somebody” in Hollywood, the town rich with so much Hungarian heritage.
I was in Budapest on October 23, 1956.

Today we are commemorating the 1956 Hungarian Freedom Fight. This revolution was the first catalyst for the future decline of the communist system, and a remarkable turning point for the advancement of democracy. I happen to make an 8-time-award-winning film about it, titled TORN FROM THE FLAG.

Klaudia however has a different viewpoint that allows her to be far more objective in her film Torn from the Flag than those who participated in the pre-communist, communist and postrevolutionary events. To her historical perspective she carries no personal baggage as she begins her journey into the past, to research and present a picture of the precursors of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the Revolution itself, and its aftermath, and also how it fits into the scheme of international events and relationships.
This film deals with far more than the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 as symbolized by the flag that was torn. It
goes well beyond that historical event. The story starts in 1945 with the Soviet army’s occupation of Hungary at the end of WWII, and continues through the years until the last Russian soldier leaves Hungary on June 19, 1991 and the Soviet
Union falls apart.

After Klaudia wrote the story of the film and the synopsis, she submitted it to the Writer’s Guild of America in
2002. In 2004, Klaudia hired Endre Hules to carry out her vision and make it into a full script.
To this task, screenplay writer and director Endre Hules brought an impressive background. He started his career
in Hungary as the Director of the National Theaters of Pécs and Szeged. He appeared as stage director at the Biennale
de Paris, the Williamstown Theater Festival, at the Shakespeare World Congress, and several other stages of the world.
His plays and scripts appeared worldwide. Shooting of his script “Prima Primavera” will start soon as an English-DutchBulgarian-Hungarian co-production. Planned for 2008 is the shooting of a Canadian-Hungarian co-production, in which he will direct from his own script, a film about a girl who danced until her death.

The European Media Foundation
supports these films and the screenplay Vajk and Isabella, written by him for Satellit GmbH. Among his short-term plans
is the directing of Oedipus, a script by Attila Szabó-Palócz. Endre Hules appeared in more than a hundred films and TVplays. As an actor, the Screen Actors Guild has recognized his accomplishments with their Special Award. He has taught writers, directors and actors in Europe and Japan, in the United States (one example is the University of New York) and currently at Stephen Spielberg’s Alma Mater, the University of Southern California. Rounding out the creative team, among others, are László Kovács (Award-winning Cinematographer – Executive Producer), Vilmos Zsigmond (Oscar®-winning Cinematographer – Executive Producer), George Adams(Associate Producer), Zoltán Honti (Cinematographer), Stephanie Hubbard (Editor), and Chris Horvath (Composer). An additional 2,000 individuals supported the project in one way or another.

TORN FROM THE FLAG - Vilmos Zsigmond - Klaudia Kovacs (Photo by Peter Sorel)

George Adams, Associate Producer, deserves special mention in the creation of the film. George is an awardwinning director and has been working with Klaudia on Torn from the Flag from the first day on. He saw Klaudia’s unique
talent as a filmmaker-producer and encouraged her to make this film her first feature film.
George has over 15 years’ experience as Producer, Director, and Editor of several independent films. His credits
include documentary and television projects such as Dead World, an IFILM Halloween Pick. Gems, in which Klaudia
starred, is a short film nominated for Best Short by Torrance Cable Television. It Hurts to be a Rebel is a documentary
about gang members and their body art. Max is a video about a young homeless man on the streets of Los Angeles.
George is also an award-winning theatrical producer and director of such notable plays as The Insanity of Mary Girard,
nominated in New York as Spotlight On’s Best Director and winner of the Best Ensemble Cast Award. (Klaudia also
starred in The Insanity of Mary Girard and received an award herself.) Fool for Love won a Torry Award for Best Play and Best Supporting Actor; The Boys Next Door won a Dramalogue Best Ensemble Cast Award. George also produced and
directed the West Coast premiere of the Hercule Poirot mystery Black Coffee, and the critically acclaimed Love Letters
with American television star Marion Ross.

One of the dynamic powers working in the background, Kinga Tóth, has a degree in English and Linguistics. Her
full, native command of English and her fluent Hungarian made her an indispensable consultant. She makes this
multilingual film coherent and run so smoothly that I forgot that it utilizes several languages.
Torn from the Flag tells the historical story of the period through interviews, interwoven with archive footage,
photos presenting scenes from the years at the end of WWII, the Rákosi era, celebrations, life in the country, 1956
destruction and fights, newsreels of international events and so on. The interviewees reminisce about days long gone by. They recall their emotions, retell, or analyze the events. It is an impressive group, the movers and shakers of those historical days. The events and interviews are multilingual, Hungarian, English, Russian, and Italian, with well-constructed subtitles for an English-speaking audience. The selection of the background music is superb. The quiet or temperamental classical music underscores the mood of the events. The songs of the Communist Workers’ Movement bring back many childhood memories. Sound editing could not have been better. Early in the film, we hear ancient Hungarian sounds: Megütik a dobot arranged by József Kozák, Bagpipe Player, performed by The Hungarian Bagpipe Band.

TORN FROM THE FLAG - Special Prize of the City of Eger of the Slow Film International Film Festival

In the closing of the film, we hear the haunting Hungarian folk melody Songs from Szék performed by Ágnes
Zsigmondi McCraven, which still reverberates in my ears.”Ágnes Zsigmondi has the most beautiful voice among Hungarian singers,” wrote Valóság [Budapest, Hungary]; she has “…a voice extraordinarily pure and magnetic. She sings with restrained lyricism… her improvisation resembles a kind of jazz with Hungarian flavor…” wrote Liberation, [Paris, France].Ágnes Zsigmondi was born in Budapest, Hungary. In 1972, she joined a well-known folk dancing group called
Bihari as a lead singer and flutist. In 1974, she made her first international tour as the solo singer of the famous
Hungarian Rajko Ensemble. She also studied at the Béla Bartók Conservatory in Budapest.

Technical qualities: Let me sum it up briefly: This film had a restrictive budget, but it turned out to be a quality
production satisfying the highest expectations and demands. Due to Laszlo Kovacs’ and Vilmos Zsigmond’s help,
Panavision and Technicolor are two major supporters of the film. Panavision provided the camera for the production
phase and Technicolor provided the facilities for the post-production phase. The editing is excellent, especially noticeable in the sound/music editing. The film is fast-paced: the writers did not use or waste excessive time; they did not drag the scenes or fill them with fluff. In a world that is by now so much more violent than in 1956, in a world where we get daily exposure to terrorism like the current events in the Middle East, Iraq, etc., we become rather immune to tyranny and its effects. This film had to overcome the difficulty of expressing the horrors and extremes of the days of Hungary under Communism against this current background, and did so without embellishment or grand-standing those events. There is no hatred conveyed.

It accurately and objectively portrays the revolution’s effects on world events — the negative and positive response
from the Western countries. The film does not shift blame; we can draw our own conclusions. After all, it is a
documentary, historical presentation. While the film does not delve into the current Hungarian conditions, does not attempt to analyze life after 1991 in Hungary, it does give you a clue: for a moment, it flashes statistics of suicide, alcoholism and the negative birthrate as benchmarks from the Kádár era. It is a documentary film  actually I should call it a lesson in history. It chains you down to your seat; you are unable to tear yourself away from it. It holds your attention without exaggerated or out-of-reality sensationalism. The film closes with credits and an expression of gratitude to the thousands who participated in the community effort to create Torn from the Flag. It is celebrating all who gave their lives for freedom, and helps us understand what freedom truly means.

Telling the story are the following (the information given is about who they were at the time of the uprising and
its aftermath, and then where they are now): Arisztid von Atkáry b. 1926  Student, class enemy, political prisoner,
reporter/spy for Radio Free Europe; lives in Munich, Germany; László Bálint b. 1940  Student, State Security Agent,
author; lives in Hungary; János Berecz b. 1930  Hungarian Communist politician, Member of the Hungarian Politburo,
Head of the Propaganda Committee, writer, filmmaker, businessman; László Dózsa b. 1942  Child insurgent, left for
dead twice during the Revolution, popular actor; lives in Hungary; V.I. Fomin b. 1925  Soviet military interpreter in
Hungary 1949-56; Retired, lives in Moscow; Dr. Gino Ragno  Italian student leader, politician; lives in Italy; Árpád
Göncz b. 1922  Writer, politician, Member of the 1953 Imre Nagy government. Spent 8 years in prison, blacklisted. First
freely elected President of Hungary 1990-2000, Retired, lives in Budapest;

Gyula Horn b. 1932  Communist official,
Member of Parliament, Minister, Foreign Minister – Prime Minister – 1994-1998; Lives in Budapest; Inez Kemenes b.
1937  Communist youth poet, insurgent, translator; lives in Hungary; George Lassan b. 1936  Tool and die maker,
insurgent leader, escaped to the West, businessman, Founding member of World Association of Hungarians of ‘56; lives
in Los Angeles; George Mismas b. 1935  Child political deportee, factory worker, insurgent, escaped to the West,
businessman; lives in the U.S.; Árpád Nagy b. 1927  Peasant – communist political activist, State Secret Service Agent,
Police Major, Anti-AVO Activist, retired; lives in Hungary; Andrew Pongrátz b. 1939  Student, insurgent, businessman,
lives in Arizona; István “Potyka” Porubszky b. 1931  Student, factory worker, insurgent leader, anti-communist
nationalist activist, Escaped to the West, Returned to Hungary after 1989, artist, nationalist activist, founded ’56
Antibolshevist Society in 2000 (banned); Imre Pozsgay b. 1933  Peasant – communist political activist, Communist
official, Minister of State. In 1989, as Minister of State, he declared the 1956 events a “popular uprising,” opening the way for political change and multiparty elections; in 1989 opened Hungary’s border with Austria, Political Science College Professor in Hungary;

Torn from the Flag is a documentary film about the international decline of communism and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The film encompasses the tense Cold War era (1945–1991) and presents the rivalry of the superpowers during that time. Torn from the Flag was made primarily for theatrical release, and participated in the 2009 Oscar competition in the ”Best Documentary” category.

Róbert Szalay b. 1930  Hungarian Army officer, insurgent, political prisoner, teacher, historian, author; lives in Hungary; Árpád Szlama b. 1934  Hungarian Army officer, insurgent – brought heavy weapons to Budapest, spent 15 years in prison, activist, author; passed away earlier this year; Emery (Imre) Tóth  Ran Ministry during uprising, and was advisor at the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, escaped to the West, filmmaker; lives in the U.S.; Ferenc Várnai b. 1928  Nazi Resistance fighter, Communist official, Vice President of the Hungarian Anti-Fascist Resistance Fighters Association and President of the Civil Forum in Hungary; George Vassiliou  Political refugee in Hungary prior to 1956, – Communistactivist, economist, President of Cyprus (1988-1993), industrialist; lives in Cyprus; Rózsa Zs. Szabó  Student, teacher, writer, publisher; lives in Hungary; Dr. Otto von Habsburg b. 1912  Son of Emperor Charles IV, and head of the Habsburg family. Heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (abdicated, 1961) President of the Pan-European Union, European Parliament Member, historian, author, lecturer; lives in Germany; Dr. Henry Kissinger b. 1923  US Foreign Policy Advisor, Head of National Security Council. Won Nobel Peace Prize 1973, U.S. Secretary of State 1973-77, Owns consulting firm Kissinger Associates, Inc., Author, lecturer; Csaba Békés,Ph.D.  Historian, works at the 1956 Institute in Budapest;

Dr. Ivan T. Berend  Economist, Historian, former President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; Co-chairman of the Institute of East-West Studies, Director of the Center for European and Eurasian Studies, UCLA; Dr. Richard M. Filipink, Jr.  Historian, Eisenhower’s biographer; Mark Kramer, Ph.D.  Historian, Harvard University, Head of the East European Institute, Boston; William Taubman, Ph.D. Pulitzer Prize for Biography 2004 – Khrushchev: The Man and His Era – he is the ‘Bertrand Snell’ Professor of Political Science at Amherst College; Dr. András Nagy is a U.N. Specialist, author of The Bang-Jensen Case, Professor at Veszprem University.

Documentary researchers were Bonnie G. Rowan – USA; Alexander Kandaurov – Russia; and János Varga –
Hungary.

Historical advisors: Dr. György Csihák – Hungarian Historical Society of Zurich; Professor Zoltán Kramar,
Central Washington University; Dr. M. János Rainer; Dr. Peter Sager; The Institute for the History of the 1956
Hungarian Revolution. Historical background notes: Nikita S. Khrushchev (1894-1971)  Leader of the Soviet Union 1953-1964, First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party 1953-1964, Denounced Stalin’s crimes on February 25, 1956, Removed from power in 1964, in a coup orchestrated by Leonid Brezhnev; Joseph V. Stalin (1879-1953)  Leader of the Soviet Union (1924-1953); Responsible for millions of deaths, died of natural causes; Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower (1890-
1969)  U.S. General in WWII, U.S. President 1952-1960; Died in 1969 of heart failure; János Kádár (1912-1989) 
Leader of the illegal Communist Party during WWII, Minister of Interior 1948-50, political prisoner 1951-53, member of
Imre Nagy’s revolutionary Government 10/24/56 – 11/4/56, Hungarian State leader after the Soviet suppression of the
Revolution 1956-1988, instituted “New Economic Mechanism” in Hungary in 1967-68; Died of natural causes in 1989;

Imre Nagy (1896-1958)  Fought in the 1917 Russian Revolution, lived in exile in the Soviet Union, returned to Hungary
in 1945, Minister of Agriculture 1948, Prime Minister 1953-55, expelled from the Communist Party 1955, elected Prime
Minister during the Revolution October 24, 1956 – November 4, 1956, arrested after the Soviet suppression of the
Revolution and executed by the Kadar government in 1958, rehabilitated and reburied in 1989; Mátyás Rákosi (1892-
1971)  Communist politician; Commissar of the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic. After years of exile in the Soviet Union, he was First Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party 1945 to 1956, while also holding various cabinet posts. Calling himself “Stalin’s best disciple”, he organized and ruled over a totalitarian dictatorial police state. After the 1956
Revolution, he returned to the Soviet Union where he died in exile.

By: Leslie Eloed

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