The Story of New Eldorado
All filmmakers dream about making a film that will cross the borders, reach other continents, find new audiences that understand the message of a movie coming from the other end of the world. They will sympathize with the characters, worry about them; they will cry and laugh. The film will be aired on foreign television stations, screened in cinemas, and then you will finally stand on a stage, on the verge of tears in front of a crowd, clasping your awards, saying: “I thank my mother, my producer and everyone involved, I love you all.”
Though I have never held the golden figure, I have had many similar experiences in the past three years. I have been in filmmaking for 30 years. I am turning 45 this year.
I assume that you, who read this, are much younger and might ask: “Does it really take 30 years? 2 or 3 years will be enough for me.” I believe you are absolutely right! But do not forget that in Hungary in the 80s, on the east side of the iron curtain, things were a little bit different. The technology then was incomparable to the one today. Gluing 8mm film together with adhesive tape or placing the chopped-up strips on the tip of a pin sounds like something that has nothing in common with the video camera or online editing.
Whether you believe it or not, I remember clearly sitting with my parents in the cinema, watching “La Tulipe Noir” with Delon and “Fantomas” with Jean Marais. I was four years old and already “infected”. As a child I always wanted to be a graphic artist. Then at the age of seventeen I won a student award with my first film in a high school competition. The camera I used was a Russian 8mm Lada, with a motor you had to wind up. I made my decision: I was going to be a film director.
Roughly, that is how my career began. Of course it was a long journey until 2004 and “New Eldorado”. I went to film school and it was important for me to make a diploma film that would show what I was capable of. Unlike the others, I did not want it to be just a final exam film. It was a 20minute “mockumentary” and it took me 3 years to finish. I picked the American and Japanese characters upon the street, I used first-rate costumes and sets, and worked with a well-known scriptwriter. All these factors paid off: the film“Wapra Report” was admitted to the Palm Springs competition (Short Film Fest) and I was invited to the Margaret Mead in New York. I had a pretty good start.
Nevertheless, I made a big mistake everybody should learn from! Do not start a film company. Refrain from wanting to own a professional editing studio, an expensive camera and other filming equipment! Do not employ, rather hire people for productions! Of course it is also true that if there was no Flora Film International and I did not have my excellent colleagues, “New Eldorado” would probably not come into existence… But if you want to be creative, meaning you want to direct your film, avoid becoming the managing director, the producer and the director of your company in one person. You can not be an artist and a businessman at the same time. Keep this always in mind.
Now let us see how my first international documentary came into being. The subject of my diploma film “WapraReport” was also ecology. In 1994 I perceived that not too many films had taken on ecological topics (one exception is “Koyaanisqatsi”, which made a great impression on me), so I decided to specialize on environmental issues.
After making several documentaries, a terrible ecological accident occurred in 2000, which shocked the world’s public opinion. As a result of an industrial accident in Romania, 100,000 cubic meters of cyanide sludge overflowed into the nearby rivers, causing the desolation of flora and fauna of the second biggest river in Hungary, the Tisza, and ruining the lives of many fishing families. This was an accident I needed to film. I traveled to the river and immediately began to record the situation on video. I had never seen such dramatic images before. It felt like being on the war field. Crying fishermen were collecting over a thousand tons of deceased fish on the icy river. I was also taking photographs that were later published by many major newspapers (Time Magazine, Ecologist, Geo Magazine, Sciences et Avenir, Reuters, etc.), because I was the first to get to the location. TV Stations like RTL and SAT1 acquired footage from me.
The WWF and Greenpeace asked me to take them to the scenes of the accident in Romania and Hungary and work as their cinematographer for a couple of days. Consequently all the relevant TV stations of the world used the Greenpeace press kit with my shots. They labeled the incident as the largest European ecological catastrophe since Chernobyl. I knew the subject was of international interest and it was obvious that I held exclusive footage. The topic was universal: Money versus Earth.
I know I missed the opportunity to immediately commence negotiations with the commissioning editors of the major television networks. They could not have said no to this unique footage. But I decided to do my own film.
Since I wanted to include the social background of the disaster, the coming consequences and the probable legal suit, I chose not to put the “news footage” of the ecological catastrophe filled with horrific pictures straightaway on the market. Perhaps, if I had, I would now be a rich man, but probably the most dramatic five minutes of “New Eldorado” would have to be left out, or even worse, there would have been no film at all.
I continued shooting and in 2001 I arrived at the scenes of further polluting sources in Hungary and Romania. In 2002, I heard of Canadian company wanting to build a new gold mine in a place called Rosia Montana. I thought I should take a closer look. The people were not really enthusiastic about us being there. Everyone, both the local population and the company’s workers distrusted the Hungarian filmmakers.
The place itself put a spell on me. The village square, the old houses, the narrow streets, all reminded me of Sicily. In the midst of the surrounding mountains it was truly a picturesque scene. Furthermore, the place radiates a certain atmosphere, an energy that still holds me captivated. I knew then that I would be coming back. On our next visit we brought an interpreter and we found out that it was going to be the Europe’s largest open cast gold mine, and that the cyanide tanks would be 40 times as big as the ones involved in the accident in 2000. Under the village there lie 300 tons of gold and 1600 tons of silver. But in order to retrieve it, all the population of the 2000 year old settlement would have to be moved, together with their cemeteries and churches.
I knew this was going to be a far more complicated issue, the cyanide accident of 2000 being only the introduction. I felt I had to make a film about this place and its people.
In 2002 I was unfamiliar with the terms “pitching forum” and “commissioning editor”. After a few unsuccessful phone calls I gave up on international co-production. Luckily, the second largest public broadcasting service in Hungary, Duna TV, became my partner and I started to angle for the Hungarian Film Foundation. I was shooting between 2002 and 2004 and I was able to raise around 40 thousand euros, which only covered the travel expenses and accommodation. I used my own camera and we traveled with our company’s minivan. Sometimes an enthusiastic youngster or an environment activist came along to help as a technician. Usually it was the three of us: Emőke Konecsny (whom I owe the greatest thanks, without her no film would have been made), who worked with us as the director’s assistant and interpreter (having lived in Transylvania for 18 years she speaks perfect Romanian); then a technician / driver, who also did the sound; and me, the cinematographer / director.
As the local people saw that we would come back time after time, they grew more trustful and helped a lot during the shooting. The footage was growing and growing and by the end of 2003, together with the footage from 2000, we had 120 hours of material. We tried to attend every important occurrence regardless of the weather conditions. I remember a delegation of EU representatives arriving in Rosia Montana. We came to know about them a little late and I had to drive through the night on horrible mountain roads and snow, so we would make it on time. The distance between Budapest and Rosia Montana is 500 km, but because of the border crossing and the bad roads it takes 8 hours to get from one to the other. After a full day of shooting in 10 degrees temperature the meeting finally took place in an unheated room. I knew I had to record every single word uttered, but my legs were shaking from exhaustion and cold, and Emőke was close to fainting, since we did not have time to eat or sleep. Later this footage turned out to be one of the most important scenes of the film.
Editing was not easy either. My company Flora Film acquired extra editing equipment for this movie and an inexperienced but enthusiastic guy Gyuri Kővári literally moved in to devote all his time to the editing. We edited every day of the week, even on holidays.
Meanwhile, we were looking for support from major international and Hungarian companies, for we had run out of money. All in vain, environmentalism did not fit in their portfolio. Luckily the Minister of Environment Miklós Persányi gave us a helping hand, I have to give my thanks to him as well. The Budapest Waterworks supported us with considerable financial contribution.
As soon as the main structure of the film was developed, I faced new difficulties: I wanted no narration; I meant to use only the characters’ voice. It pained me when I realized that only a fraction of the footage from the catastrophe of 2000 would make it into the movie. Fortunately a few editing dramaturges offered their assistance. We gave them some test screenings and they contributed many helpful ideas.
The music was equally problematic. The songs I had chosen were only available through foreign distributors like EMI, BMG or the Piranha Records, which meant they were going to be expensive. We tried to negotiate with them, but it was a fruitless effort. We settled for 5000 euros, in those days enough money to make a whole documentary.
We were very lucky to have the internationally recognized Hungarian folk singer Márta Sebestyén record two beautiful songs for us (she had sung, for instance in The English Patient). Those can be heard under the ending credits.
After finishing the rough cut together with the music, I felt I wanted the filmtobescreenedin cinemas. I started to negotiate with distributors. A rather brave enterprise, since they rarely showed more than one documentary per year, and usually from SP or DVD.
I declared the film would be on 35mm film. The distributors tried to talk me out of the magnification, since the usual audience admission for documentaries lies around 2–4 thousand. I claimed I could reach 15 thousand, I even took bets. They agreed to show it on 2–3 copies, but only if I could gather the necessary 50–60 thousand euros. In the end the Hungarian Radio and Television Commission came to my help and 5 Hungarian and 1 English prints were produced.
We started the post-production in 2003. I planned the premiere for 5th of July 2004, the Environmental World Day, in the most elegant cinema of Budapest. With one of the most creative Hungarian graphic artist with experience in film (Zsolt Mezei of RetinArt Studio), we managed to make a beautiful design that would have outdone any feature film. I need not say that he basically worked for free.
An experienced friend helped me with the tasks connected to the film's international production and distribution. I have to give my thanks to Ágnes Havas, for it was mainly her accomplishment that the film turned out to be this successful in the cinemas.
The premiere was held at Budapest's most beautiful cinema. I was very happy to see that there were no empty seats. There were around 500 people present and the Minister of Environment held the introductory speech. New Eldorado became a huge success; press reps were present who later praised the film in their articles.
The media campaign became real media cooperation: The two biggest national daily newspapers, the most popular news website, the national radio and television, all became our media partners. Just before the premiere we invited all the journalists to a study tour to Rosia Montana.
Because of the international interest generated by the Rosia Montana NGOs and the international environmentalist movement, the gold mine became a very important international environmental issue that got high media coverage. The leading papers and national TV and radio stations were daily following the events and the political debates. This all helped in the cinema success of New Eldorado, while the documentary helped the audience understand what was going on in Rosia Montana.
The festival career of the film was rather unplanned, because we lacked the experience. Now we know that we should have begun by registering for a strong European documentary festival (like IDFA), because that would have started the process. We did get into IDFA, but not into competition since that would mean no European or a world premiere (we had already attended a Romanian and a Canadian festival earlier). I had envisaged the film to enter in the most prestigious festivals. That is the reason why I had made a 35 mm print with English subtitles.
I learned quite a lot from the past 3 years. That is the reason why I became the filmproducer, director, cinematographer and distributor. All in all, it was exhausting, but we had help and a great bit of support. If you are crafty and smart, do not even think of doing too many tasks: Try to be the director or the producer, but not both! Look for partners.
Last but not least: You can call yourself lucky if you are reading these lines, because it means you are where you should be. If I had presented New Eldorado at Ex Oriente, I would have saved myself from the difficulties I encountered and the mistakes I made. I would perhaps have had a co-production partner and far more TV stations would have come aboard, if I had used a good pitching forum. Summa summarum: Give it all you can!
Hungary 2004, 76'
Director / Producer / DOP: Tibor Kocsis
Creative assistant director: Emőke Konecsny
Assistant director: Győrgi Márió Kővári
Production manager: Melinda Loszman
Sound: Péter Ákos
Consultant: András Lányi
Songs performed by: Márta Sebestyén
Narrated by: Tamás Végvári
Music by: Adiemus / Chris Field / Fanfare Ciocarlia / Sonoton
There is a wonderful village. It's called Rosia Montana. With several hundred-year-old houses. People who stick by their land, house, churches, dead relations. The surrounding mountains contain 300 tons of gold and silver. Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, a Canadian-Romanian company wants to open a goldmine here. State-of-the-art technology. Open cast mining. People are being moved into new, modern houses. Their former homes are to be destroyed. There will be gold. There will be silver. This will be a new Eldorado. A remarkable offer. There will also be an 800-hectare cyanide waste reservoir with a 180-meter-high dam. Only this beautiful village, Rosia Montana will disappear from the face of the Earth.
EAST EUROPEAN FORUM 2007
Tibor Kocsis's new documentary project New Eldorado 2 - Save Rosia Montana, presented during the pitch session on Sunday, Oct 28, drew interest from a number of commissioning editors. Kocsis will lead further negotiations about possible forms of support with Jane Jankovic from TVO (Canada), Margje de Koning from IKON (Netherlands) and Joke Goovaerts from Lichtpunt (Belgium). Complete results of the 2007 East European Forum available here...
Photo: Rosia Montana / Old gold mine / Tibor Kocsis