Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Archiving the “Invisible”: (Dis)Remembering Hungarian Secret Police Through Film

Fri31  Mar12:30pm(15 mins)
McIntyre Room 208


Lucy Szemetova1
1 University of St Andrews, UK


This paper will explore Gábor Zsigmond Papp’s The Life of an Agent (2004), a compilation of state security training films from Hungary’s (socialist) Kádár era (1956-1989). This documentary film is produced through materials aimed at cultivating surveillance, secreted following the regime change, but then brought to light through archival excavation and remixing. By repurposing archival footage, The Life of an Agent animates crucial tensions between past and present (or future), the concealed and the exposed, truth and fiction, political ideologies, and dimensions of power. Drawing on Dagmar Brunow’s conceptualisation of filmmaking as an archival practice, I consider Papp’s work as an attempt to use the archive to negotiate and reconstitute the past across seismic political shifts (from socialist to post-socialist Hungary). This film provides an occasion to understand the relationships of films, archives, and national memory in practices both onscreen (remixing) and off (practices of curation and collection). Thus this paper traces how creative documentary practice intervenes into the official records and produces new ones while calling attention to the ideological underpinnings of archival practice. It re-evaluates the role that films continue to play in the complex record-keeping processes as a tool for both concealing and revealing the layers of surveillance, its memory, and its reconstruction.