A Woman Captured is one of the best films I’ve seen at Sheffield Doc/Fest. It follows the day-to-day life of Marish, a modern-day slave in Hungary, as she eventually makes the decision to plot her escape.
I was fortunate enough to speak to the writer/director/editor of the film, Bernadett-Tuza Ritter, who shot the film entirely on her own.
Bernadett found the story when, having applied to study directing at the Hungarian film school, she had to make a five minute short story about a person’s day. “I had a visual concept that I only wanted to show one face in my film. Because I would love to show a day through emotions in a face.”
Having met the family (who she thought Marish worked for) a few years prior, she asked for permission to film with Marish. “I could remember her face, that she looked so much older than what she was, so I thought this might be a good face for my film.”
During those days she discovered Marish was not being paid, and so started developing it into a feature film.
The most striking element of A Woman Captured is the access given to the filmmaker. Why would Eta, the enslaver in question, let Bernadett film this documentary? “It depended on many things. I was not aware of the situation and she didn’t know that Marish was going to tell me things. For people who are not filmmakers, shooting is quite cool and, she really thought that she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She thought I’m a stupid young student, so why not?”
After a year, Eta started demanding money from Bernadett in order to continue filming. She didn’t hesitate coughing up because, at this point, she knew Marish wanted to escape.
It was a challenging shoot, not least because Bernadett was on her own with just the one camera. She was not allowed to capture Eta, or anyone else’s face on film. She wasn’t allowed Marish’s number and Eta had to know of every meeting between the two. That was just the technical and logistical side. From a moral point of it view, it was also tricky.
“It was really difficult not to help. I really believed that the best thing that I could do was to get her trust and to remind her that she’s born to be free, that she is a lovely person, so that means she will become strong enough to stay free after the escape.”
It was important for her, however, not to push Marish into escaping. To allow her to make the decision herself. “I wanted to remind her that she’s free and she can make her free decisions. I felt huge responsibility. Who am I to tell someone what to do?”
It was an emotionally draining project too. “It was always difficult. There was not a single moment where it wasn’t difficult and I always wanted to stop shooting. Every day I went home in my car and I was listening to opera to pull out my soul from this dirty world where they live. At the same time I thought; this is so important to show to everyone that this exists”.
It was that need to spread the message that motivated Bernadett to keep going. Modern slavery is an issue rarely spoken about, despite the fact there are currently 45m slaves worldwide. “It’s not a Hungarian phenomenon. It’s everywhere around the world. I think this film is important because you see it from the inside and you just can’t close your eyes after watching it. Of course the problem is we do not know what’s happening in our neighbourhood, behind the closed door.”
The other great strength of this documentary is the beautiful bond that develops between filmmaker and subject. “During the filming it was clear to me that it happened. I really tried to be nice. I tried everything. When she had her birthday, she’d never had a birthday cake, so I bought her a birthday cake. Of course we had to do everything in secret but I really felt her love towards me.”
She’s an incredible character. The heart and soul of the film. Bernadett said: “I think she’s a perfect protagonist. It was really easy to photograph her. She was amazing. She didn’t feel the camera. She had the perfect rhythm. She had a really good sense of humour and I think that helped her to survive.”
Towards the latter stages of the film Marish goes into a shop and buys Bernadett a gift. It’s the sweetest moment and it didn’t go unnoticed. “I was really surprised and it was really funny to get shower gear for managing an escape. So I really appreciated that.”
The two have kept in touch ever since, with Bernadett taking the film around the world, even bringing Marish along to the premiere and to some festivals. “You can imagine that was amazing – her coming to the stage at the end to a standing ovation. People were crying. It was beautiful.”
Bernadett now hopes to secure a wide theatrical release and is also producing a (slightly different) TV film on the same subject, which will air on 70 channels worldwide. Hopefully both versions will spread far and wide, because A Woman Captured is an extraordinary documentary that should be seen by all.
Read our review of A Woman Captured http://forgetoday.com/culture/2018/06/07/review-a-woman-captured/
Images: Sheffield Doc/Fest