A different kind of course work

Entering CEU last Friday evening was a very different experience from the usual serene atmosphere that one is used to just before the weekend. Loud chitchat, people waiting outside the auditorium, and nervous excitement in the air – it was the End-of-Semester Documentary Film Screening. These screenings have grown into a somewhat friendly tradition at the university where students have the unique opportunity to share their hard work with the CEU and wider community. After months of sweat and tears, sharing your work on a huge screen in front of a big audience can be a very daunting experience, particularly for the majority of students who never expressed themselves visually before. A completely packed auditorium arguably did not ease the worries of these fresh filmmakers either…

This is the charm of these screenings though. It is a compilation of films made by students from all over the world, across different departments, some of which have never held a camera before. All of them have one thing in common, they were part of an intense challenge of learning the basics of filmmaking in a very condensed time. These students are usually very easily recognizable at the university. Dark circles under the eyes, carrying an array of equipment bags, smoking more than usual, and being the last to leave the library (after the closing staff have asked them to do so for the 5th time) are just some of the features connecting them. The students taking filmmaking classes, thus, can often come across as the most overwhelmed and stressed members of CEU, but this does not mean these courses are not worth it, quite the contrary. Seeing them all lined up after the screening with a huge smile and relief was enough proof that they would not hesitate for a second to make another documentary.


No wonder they were all happy, their work from last semester was a rare mix of twelve short documentaries. These films were produced in three courses that are part of the Visual Studies Platform at CEU and thus presented various topics by distinctive approaches. Through the depiction of particular professions or intimate portraits of individuals, to showing the work of NGOs, each film managed to convey a meaningful message in a short 3-8 minute film. The opening two projects showed a refreshingly creative way of illustrating such problematic topics as sexual assault or war. Followed by documentaries of social impact where the films function as advocacy videos for NGOs or to put forward a pressing issue today that needs awareness. These six films managed to bring to the screen concerns that surround us on a daily basis, be it our eating habits, integration processes for refugees, our responsibilities towards animals, women’s position in entrepreneurship or the current situation of homelessness in Hungary. The third part of the screening comprised of documentaries mostly offering a glimpse into personal stories, be it a charity organization, the struggles of investigative journalists, the hardships of a trans woman in Hungary, the everydays of truck drivers when they are not on the road, or a controversial story about an even more controversial fake museum in Budapest. Finally, the closing film allowed a peek into the personal struggles of CEU community itself. The film depicted the events of the last months’ upheaval of protests, Student Union organizations, and the occupation of Kossuth square – happenings all known to us, but now seen from a different viewpoint.

The brief Q&A was very telling about the audience’s interests, rather than delving into technical issues the public was mostly curious about the filmmakers’ relationship with their projects. Questions as How did you decide on the subject?, How much were you involved?, How did you develop the contact with these people and how hard was it to remain objective? were prevalent. This definitely showed that the involvement of these students personally in their work was a crucial factor that affected the viewers themselves. The loud applause, occasional laughter (especially when recognizing fellow CEU students as participants in the films) and a much bigger turnout in the audience than expected all point toward how documentary filmmaking can be such a rewarding experience not only in the making but also in viewing.

video: Jonathan Hunter

Luca Szemet