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still from The Life of an Agent (Gábor Zsigmond Papp, HU 2004)

#3: Human Rights Film Festival

This is Film! 2023 #3: Human Rights Film Festival

For the third session, we invite Oksana Sarkisova who is the director of Verzio International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, a platform for international documentary films with a focus on human rights, based in Budapest. Paired with a screening of The Life of an Agent (2004).

poster This is Film! 2023

The presentation introduces and discusses archival compilation films screened in the past two decades at Verzio International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival (IHRDFF) in Budapest, Hungary. Special focus is given to the first opening film of the festival, The Life of an Agent (Gabor Papp, 2004), which creatively reframes the instructional films produced by the Film Studio of the Ministry of Interior in socialist Hungary. The film, accompanied by short films’ excerpts by the same studio, foregrounds different visual strategies used to explore the regimes of invisibility.

Introduction and conversation moderated by Floris Paalman (University of Amsterdam) and Q&A in collaboration with the Master students of the This is Film! class at the University of Amsterdam.


The Life of an Agent (Gábor Zsigmond Papp, HU 2004, 54’)

A documentary based on the Archive of the Hungarian Secret Police, The Life of An Agent, is about the training and techniques of Hungary’s communist spies. Hundreds of propaganda and instructional films as well as short and full-length features were produced by the Film Studio of the Ministry of Interior between 1958 and 1988. The films sought to teach the secret police about the best ways to protect the socialist state. Topics include the clandestine house search, the operative shadowing of select targets, the installation of tapping devices, and the organisation of agents and denouncers.

The plain and straightforward narration of the films is slightly out of step with their serious patriotic aims, and modern viewers will be astonished by the amount of money, time and energy devoted to a form of ideological education which was both complex and expensive. This selection neatly illustrates how the coercive organisation of Kádár's dictatorship worked, and what major motives lay behind it.


Dr. Oksana Sarkisova is Research Fellow at Blinken OSA Archive at Central European University, Director of Verzio International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, and co-founder of Visual Studies Platform at CEU. Her fields of research are cultural history, memory and representation, film history, amateur photography, and visual studies.

She published in peer-reviewed journals and collective volumes on film history, nationality politics, contemporary Russian and Eastern European cinema, co-edited Past for the Eyes: East European Representations of Communism in Cinema and Museums after 1989 (2008), and authored Screening Soviet Nationalities: Kulturfilms from the Far North to Central Asia (2017) and In Visible Presence: The Soviet Afterlives of Family Photos (2023, forthcoming, with Olga Shevchenko). She teaches courses on visual theory, memory politics and Eastern European cinema, documentary cinema and human rights, and documentary filmmaking for historians.

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149 min.

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This is Film! 2023

This is Film! Film Heritage in Practice is an annual public lecture series devoted to notable projects in the fields of film restoration and film heritage, with international guest speakers and film screenings.

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campain image This is Film! 2023 (Het tovertoneel (Segundo de Chomón, FR 1907))
still from The Life of an Agent (Gábor Zsigmond Papp, HU 2004)
still from The Life of an Agent (Gábor Zsigmond Papp, HU 2004)
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