"I am using the ordinary language of photography and film to find in banality, the sacred." – Péter Forgács
The history of the 20th century is stockpiled with cinematic images, not only those shot by newsreel cameramen and journalists but also by amateurs. It is from these private, often overlooked images that Péter Forgács draws the footage that he uses to re-present the history of Europe in the last century: not the official version, but history as it was lived.
"I am not a historian," Forgács has said. "I am interested in the psychoanalysis of history." Just as for Freud such seemingly insignificant things as dreams, jokes and slips of the tongue could reveal the life of the mind, for Forgács, the images of amateur filmmakers reveal the complexities and slippages that recorded history either smoothes out or ignores. Forgács has referred to his work as "re-orchestrating history," taking up the large events of twentieth-century Europe but presenting them anew, from the point of view of daily life rather than the actions of famous and powerful figures.
Born in Hungary in 1950, Forgács has made more than thirty films since beginning in 1978. In 1983, he established the Private Photo & Film Archives Foundation in Budapest, a collection of more than three hundred hours of amateur film shot in Hungary. Forgács made his reputation with a series of films from this footage called Private Hungary, but his international profile has led him to make films using images from other countries as well. Again and again, Forgács returns to the central trauma of World War II, as his films seek to reclaim the record of life in modern Europe from the shadows of Nazism and Stalinism.
Forgács' constant collaborator is Tibor Szemzö, a composer Forgács met in the milieu that formed in Budapest around conceptual art and minimalist music in the 1970s. It was this milieu that provided the context for Forgács' beginnings as a filmmaker, as well as a wide range of influences from Freud to Luis Buñuel to Robert Wilson.
The Harvard Film Archive is one of the largest and most significant university-based motion picture collections in the United States, with a collection of over 13,000 items from around the world and from almost every period in film history.
Film series are scheduled year-round and include retrospectives of distinguished directors and actors, surveys of important periods and movements, and in-depth explorations of historic themes and contemporary issues. Screenings of films from the HFA collection as well as those from other collections are held in the HFA Cinematheque, a 210-seat theater with state-of-the-art equipment.