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Aunt Jolan! Tell us about 1956! -

(Hungarian news portal:

By Nora Strommer
(Translation by Katica Avvakumovits)

At the reception following the opening of Journey Home, we look in vain for the usual „film crowd”. Instead, charming old fogies and little old ladies stand around eating the pastries and telling each other their own stories from ’56. Hungarian-American filmmaker Réka Pigniczky’s 1956 documentary premiered at the Urania movie theater.

October 17, 2006

At the opening, the introduction by Krisztina Bombera [well-known TV news personality] tugged at the heartstrings; she told about how she first met the film’s director in New York on September 12, 2001, filing her news footage of the terrorist attacks. “Réka is a very brave woman,” said Bombera. Then she added some insights about “the human face of the revolution,” about “individual acts, and failures to act,” and then she teared up.

At this, we hardened our hearts and prepared for 90 excruciating minutes of whatever we imagined that a Hungarian-American woman’s views on 1956 might have to offer us. But Journey Home got the best of us. The film, in fact, took our breath away, and if we hadn’t been occupied trying to come up with interview questions, we might even have shed a tear ourselves.

Dad Was a Hero

“It’s true that your dad liked to jazz things up a bit, okay?” recounts one of the film’s very best elderly faces with a mischievous smile, when asked about László, Réka Pigniczky’s father. László left Hungary in 1957, escaping first to Yugoslavia, then to Italy, and finally settling in the U.S. where he raised his daughters, telling them stories about the armed battles on the streets of Budapest.

This is where 1956 enters the picture, and the two Pigniczky sisters, who started coming to Hungary in 2003 to find out the truth behind their father’s stories. They brought along a video camera and a cameraman, too, and chatted with old-timers who told their own tales about 1956. The suspense kicks in when it turns out that László Pigniczky, a master sergeant in the Hungarian army before the revolution, was arrested for embezzlement – but we won’t give away any more details. Not incidentally, despite the film’s low-budget nature, the film looks good, successfully carries the storyline, and intersperses historical footage along with the present-day filming. Some of this footage was created by László Pigniczky himself on a Super-8 camera; the rest is from the National Film Archives.

A Personal Project

“Originally, we wanted to come to Hungary together with my father, to visit all the sites, and he’d tell us all the details. But then he died,” says the 36-year-old director at the reception following the film opening. “I prefer the personal angle, and to some extent this was meant for a non-Hungarian audience,” adds Pigniczky, who is currently a TV journalist, working mainly for the Associated Press (APTN) out of Hungary. Journey Home is her first film, apart from an experiment during her student days.

At this point, we are interrupted by László Eörsi [a historian of 1956 who consulted for the film]: “I agree with this film,” he states, then proceeds to get into an argument with the director about the exact number of people executed after the revolution. “She deserves a rap on the knuckles for that [presumed error], but otherwise, the movie is very good,” he says after they resolve the number wars. “It not only shows the historical aspects, but also personal experience. And the film manages to be very visual, which is rare for a documentary.”

“He’s very precise,” says the director after Eörsi leaves. “We spent a huge amount of time working together. Next year he’s publishing a book about the revolutionary group that my father was involved with. In effect, we were doing research, too, except that we also filmed along the way.”

Hooligans vs. Revolutionaries

We talk about current events – last month’s attacks by violent demonstrators against the headquarters of Hungarian TV. “I was there, I was reporting, and I was very upset when the [Hungarian reporter] stood there on the steps and said that this was a revolution, like 1956. They should apologize to the veterans of 1956,” Pigniczky tells us. “The 1956

revolutionaries may have been working-class, but they certainly weren’t football hooligans.”

“With this film, I want to encourage the younger generation to think things over and then find out what grandpa did. That generation has the information; you have to get it out of them.” At this, Tamás Almási [noted Hungarian documentary filmmaker] steps up. “It worked. It’s a very strong film,” he says, then naturally suggests a few changes, and goes on to suggest that we see a similar film, Attila Kékesi’s “The Face of the Revolution: In the Footsteps of a Girl from Pest.”

A bit later – just to keep things in perspective – a critic also adds his two cents. Victor Pamper, a retired engineer, maintains that “it was a real shame to put in the footage of the lynchings at Köztársaság Square, but an even bigger mistake to feature [historian] János M. Rainer, the Director of the Institute on 1956.” Mr. Pamper goes on to suggest that we see “The Forgotten Wisdom of Debrecen,” which, he states, is “the best film on 1956 according to [Hungarian documentary filmmaker] Sándor Sára,” being shown at the Citizens’ Center. “You know where that is?” he asks. We don’t, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

Aunt Jolan! Tell us about 1956! -