Eszter Cseke and Andras S. Takacs | Dávid Harangozó

Close enough

Alica Árvay
March 29, 2011

On February 5, 2011 two young reporters received the Story Value Award in media category. Eszter Cseke and András S. Takács were given the acknowledgment for their documentary series entitled 'On the Spot', where they undertake being exposed to all dangers to capture real life experience all over the world.

Eszter was traveling in China when she heard that she had gained admission to the Theater and Film Academy, where her tutor was Ibolya Fekete. It was due to her influence that Eszter became engaged with documentaries. Her film, Fata Morgana, gained a first prize at the Aristoteles film workshop and she also made film about Sir Salman Rushdie.

András started his career at eleven. This doesn’t seem an exaggeration if we consider that he had already been working for the BBC and CNN when he was only twenty years old. He studied in Budapest, London, Edinburgh and New York. His first work together with Eszter was a documentary on German film director Wim Wenders. During their work, they have touched on almost all hot topics imaginable: The war in Afghanistan; Varanasi, the death city in India;Gaza; the last Sherpa of Sir Edmund Hillary in Nepal; female circumcision; racial hatred and slums in South Africa; just to name a few. In their correspondence with their tutor, he called them: ‘my dear freaks’.

How would you tell your own stories from an objective story-teller point of view? Was there a decisive moment when you committed to undertake such great risks in order to tell others’ stories? Can you tell me what motivates you?

Should we talk about the female circumcision we filmed in an African desert, or the imprisoned Iranian film director, Jafar Panahi, with whom we made the last tv-interview? It all started more than 4 years ago when two twenty-somethings met in the Hungarian Film Academy, made a portrait film on the legendary Wim Wenders in Berlin with two small
cameras, then went to Gaza to shoot a documentary with the same two cameras. The latter was the pilot of their docu-series, commissioned by a trusted TV channel in Hungary. They visited 27 countries in the last year; their material was bought by BBC World Service and CNN International. Now, they are producing their 14th film. Other than this, we can not tell our own story from an objective point of view, you might want to ask someone from our channel, Spektrum TV, or one of our teachers to do it for you. We are absolutely sure that they would tell you a completely different story from the one you could hear from us. Our stories are taking place in Afghanistan, Burma and Iran; we do not have the time and the energy to think a lot about our reputation or our role in the Hungarian media. For example; when we got the Story Value Award, our teacher, the most prominent TV reporter in Hungary, Tamas Vitray told the audience at the Story Party thatthe most significant achievement of the year in the Hungarian electronic media was our program,‘On The Spot’. We had never ever thought about it but, of course, it is also our story, or at least part of it is ours, though our motivation has nothing to do with the Hungarian media or the awards we get for our work. It is about telling stories of people from the North Pole to South Africa who would not have their voices heard, especially not in this part of the world, as Central-Eastern European viewers are not that interested in foreign news. News editors are afraid to put too much news about foreign countries in the news programs. While in London, New York or Dubai everybody was talking about Wikileaks, most Hungarians had not even heard about it until the first cables about Hungary were released. It is such an admiration and inspiration that our program can be successful here despite the fact that it is covering stories across the world.

The currency of ideas and themes move quickly,while your work demands a long period of preparation in terms of providing technicalities and logistics. How do you resolve this contradiction? How predictable is it which themes are bound to interest the media and how much do you depend on this interest? What are the topics that are important to you but, for some reason, don’t get the interest they deserve?

We must follow our own interests; otherwise we could not make such an honest series. Our channel knows this and they let us show what we want to show. The stories of ‘On The Spot’ are human stories behind the news. The currents of news are “quickly passing" as you said. The attention of the international media is shifting from story to story but the people behind the news do not go anywhere, they stay. The US army might be out of Afghanistan in a couple of years but the Afghan people will still live in the consequences of the war. We are covering their stories, not the news. But you need these stories to really understand the news.

In circumstances of extreme danger, how has close interdependence influenced your relationship,and how have they affected you personally and professionally? How is it possible to coexist in such close proximity? What are difficulties and merits of a close-working relationship? How do you envisage your future?

We have probably learned more about the world, about our profession, and about ourselves in the first year of ’On The Spot’ than in our four years at the film academy. We were already good friends when we started this whole project and our riendship has become stronger after all these stories and so-called dangerous situations we went through together. If we had not been in such a close relationship, if we had not trusted each other, we would have never been able to make it. Of course, you face difficulties when you spend half of your life with someone else. But, if you choose the right person to do it with, you will
find the way to solve all those problems because you know exactly how much you get from your partner.

Could you name two stories each, which were your favorite stories, that had an afterlife in that they caused a change in the life of the subject or that had interesting impact in some way?

You’re asking could we choose one or two interesting stories from ’On The Spot’? Sorry, we just can't. From the first and only Hungarian interview with Ban Ki Moon on the Arctic Circle, to the gangsters in Johannesburg, to the meeting with the Bolivian President Evo Morales, to the undercover shooting in Burma, to modern slavery in Mauritania or death in Varanasi... it is impossible to choose and in ’On The Spot’, the point is that our viewers do not have to choose one or two stories they can watch, they get a close-up about a place, a problem or a people every single month. Plus, they can follow up those stories on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and on our blog. This is how they can come closer to these stories than they could while watching an average TV show. And, our aim is also to be close. As the famous Hungarian war photographer said: "If your pictures are not good enough, you were not close enough".

Alica Árvay

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