Wednesday, September 19, 2007

IFP: Budapest to Gettysburg

Whenever I visit Prague I get the sense that 1968 could have been just yesterday for most Czechs. The memory of the Soviet invasion is so fresh and visceral, it continues to loom over every aspect of public life. I imagine there is a similar feeling for 1956 in Budapest, particularly after screening Budapest to Gettysburg (trailer here) at IFP.

Budapest chronicles internationally recognized historian Gabor Boritt’s reluctant return to his native Hungary, at the prodding of his son, filmmaker Jake Boritt. A professor at Gettysburg College, we see Dr. Boritt’s insights on Lincoln sought out by august company, including the likes of the late Peter Jennings, Karl Rove, and Ken Burns. He is not thrilled with this project, though, preferring to leave his own history safely in the past.

As they visit important sites from the Boritt family’s past, Dr. Boritt starts to warm to the project. Dr. Boritt had lived through tumultuous times, surviving the National Socialist occupation as a young Jewish boy in Budapest, and later participating in the revolution of 1956 as a teen-ager. Some family history remains a mystery though, including details of his father’s role in the resistance to the Nazi occupiers. What is most remarkable is the little reported link between the freedom fighters of 1956 and the words of Abraham Lincoln, which in effect ties together the disparate periods of Boritt’s life.

Despite his protestations, Dr. Boritt’s story is well worth telling. He and his colleagues may not have been successful in 1956, but their efforts would eventually bear fruit. Many observers consider the post-Communist success of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to their legacies of challenging Soviet domination, establishing a tradition of free thinking that would survive all attempts of suppression.

Budapest, screened in its entirety, is finished and ready for distribution. It is a film that should be seen by American students, as it has much to say about the fight for freedom, both in Hungary and on a hallowed battlefield in Pennsylvania.