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CPH:DOX 2024 CPH:DOX Industry

Docmakers Sissel Morell Dargis, Bálint Révész and Dávid Mikulán discuss their craft with the CPH:DOX audience

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- The three helmers broke down the making of their two films freshly presented at the Danish gathering, Balomania and KIX

Docmakers Sissel Morell Dargis, Bálint Révész and Dávid Mikulán discuss their craft with the CPH:DOX audience
l-r: Charlotte Cook, Sissel Morell Dargis, Dávid Mikulán and Bálint Révész during the talk

On 18 March, CPH:DOX hosted one of its “Filmmakers in Dialogue” sessions, which saw the participation of Sissel Morell Dargis, director of Balomania [+see also:
film review
film profile
]
, and Bálint Révész and Dávid Mikulán, the helmers of KIX [+see also:
film review
film profile
]
.

Balomania is set deep in the Brazilian favelas, where a secret community of men known as baloeiros (lit. “balloon builders”) are planning their next action, while being pursued by police and bounty hunters, who consider them dangerous criminals. KIX, meanwhile, witnesses a Budapest boy’s coming of age. The film follows Sanyi from the playfulness of childhood to the conformity and grim reality of adulthood, over the course of 12 years.

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The talk, moderated by Field of Vision’s Charlotte Cook, saw the three filmmakers discussing their work, which zooms in on protagonists on the fringes of society over long periods of time. They also touched on the ethics behind it, and the emotional investment that comes with time and closeness, and what this brings to the story but also the lines that it blurs.

Morell Dargis was asked to tell the audience about how the idea of making a documentary about a Brazilian brotherhood of balloon builders originally came up. “I was painting graffiti in Brazil, and then one day, I met some people who were talking about balloon builders as ‘people who are next-level’. I was intrigued [when I heard] that, already,” she said. “Any artist is curious and wants to explore new art forms. […] That’s how I discovered that [this world] was much larger than I could ever have imagined.”

Révész later spoke about the complex editing process he went through while working on KIX: “We edited KIX for 80 weeks, roughly a year and a half, which is quite a lot, and we did that through COVID times. It was perfect timing, actually. It took us six or eight months to begin the process, where Dávid [Mikulán] and I drafted scenes, and then we approached an editor with a three-and-a-half-hour cut. We finalised that version, and then we worked with another editor occasionally, for about a year and a half, before going back to the first editor.”

Finding the right pacing was a task of crucial importance, Révész revealed. “We broke the story into three chapters, which covered Sanyi’s growth and the way our relationship with him developed. The pacing [of the editing] had to be adapted according to the specific chapter or phase of his life. At first, [it was a] more energetic, sort of colourful, fantasy-filled vibe, and slowly it got ‘greyer and greyer’. Nonetheless, the rhythm was really important for us, as it remains light as much as possible, because this is what he represents and what he is.”

On the same topic of pacing, Morell Dargis said the rhythm of the editing was “very much like the one with which it was shot”. The film tries to encapsulate the hectic world of balloon builders, with all the attendant “chaos and adrenaline”. The filmmaker also admitted how hard it was to navigate legal boundaries while being so close to her protagonists. A lawyer specialised in following all of the balloon builders’ court cases approved the film’s cut after reviewing it several times and finding no potential legal harm in it.

Mikulán agreed with Morell Dargis, adding how difficult it is to reconcile artistic and ethical decisions, and how their role allows them to build intimate relationships with the protagonists, making them more distant from the work of journalists and reporters.

Morell Dargis also spoke about how danger may exert some kind of fascination on the filmmaker – in the specific case of the balloon world, builders share the common attitude of denying its very existence. “You need to have some cold blood, and ask questions they don’t want to be asked,” she said, adding how, for example, filming a balloon catching fire wasn’t well received by her protagonists. She also decided to rule out the participation of police officers, firefighters and politicians so as to focus more on her “lived experience” following the crew.

Furthermore, Mikulán touched upon release forms and final approval. Sanyi “hesitantly approved” the final cut after seeing it in a cinema, sitting next to his girlfriend. What made the documentary unique and effective, Mikulán disclosed, is that Sanyi and his family “didn’t really care about us being there with the camera. […] It would have been worse if they’d cared more. They would, at some point, have got to the weird level of ‘self-representation’. If they had, I probably wouldn’t have kept on filming them.”

Towards the end of the talk, the three filmmakers spoke about the topic of “glamourising mischievousness”. While personal sensitivity is essential, Révész admitted that it’s “a question we can’t answer fully”, as “we can’t figure out what would have happened if we hadn’t been a part of their lives”.

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