Zsuzsa Ferge

Good documentaries stay with you

A (good) documentary is never really only about what is supposed to be its topic. Naturally, this holds true for all artistic projects, but I think it is part of the definition of a (good) documentary. The opening film of this year’s festival is The Cleaners. The film is about those people, whose job is to filter the texts available on the internet, and it gives us a glance at their everyday work and captures how they interpret their own job. This interpretation is based on an analogy: just as sweepers sweep the public spaces of a city, cleaners literally clean our everyday “life”. For me, it has been an daunting experience to watch
a woman or a man, seeing only the words to be exterminated (pornographic or unacceptable for some other reason?) from the texts in front of them, making a general 25,000 characters disappear every single day. Just as intimidating is the thought that somewhere out there there is a gigantic apparatus, and its leadership could have made hermetically sealed decisions to change any text that I read, so that I might never know the original author’s intentions.

The second film I saw is about child beggars living in the streets of Manila, starving, abused and a private foundation’s efforts and partial successes at giving them a chance. The child portrayals are excellent, the conveying of their emotions is profound, and the physically, mentally and emotionally destructive misery and the hopeless fights physically touch the viewers. Nonetheless, I have not really felt the universal problem going far beyond the local tragedies, or, in other words, the urging message that “this can no longer be tolerated”.

The third film might have the most relevance in our days. It could happen anywhere today: young Nazi boys set up a military unit, thinking that the majority of society will show sympathy towards their efforts. The filmmakers bring this danger extremely close to the viewers, while solving an appealing psychological mystery at the same time: how can a seemingly pleasant and handsome young man turn into a tyrant monster?

Three topics: the desolution of work, the invincibility of misery and the unstoppability of the extreme right. The fundamental problems of our age. I would like to thank the filmmakers for helping to understand these issues better.


Zsuzsa Ferge, sociologist

Zsuzsa FERGE was born in Budapest in 1931. She is an economist, having worked in the field of social statistics, sociology, social policy. Since 1988 she taught at Eötvös University in Budapest. In 1989 she founded there the first department of social policy in Hungary and headed it up to 2001. Her main field of interest in research and teaching have been social structure, social inequalities, education, social and societal policy, poverty, the social impact of the transition. She is a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences since 2002. She is also a member of the European Academy and the European Academy of Yuste and has an honorary degree from Edinburgh University. She was visiting professor at several foreign (French, English, American, Rumanian) universities. She got several Hungarian decorations. She was also awarded the European Citizen’s Prize. She published about 15 books and 300 papers. Since 1990 she founded, was member of, or led several civil associations. Between 2005 and 2011 she created the Unit working on the National Program against Child Poverty, located at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.