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‘Don’t Worry, Sári’ Questions Familial Responsibilities and Urges One to Preserve Oneself

Being a family member is a role that changes all the time. Hungarian filmmaker Sári Haragonics has been reflecting on these shifts based on her own experience, losing her mother 13 years ago. In her graduation short “Coming Face to Face,” shot three years after her mother’s death, Haragonics intertwined home-movie footage with scenes of a summer holiday with her father and brother, as they deal with grief and guilt. Now, 10 years later, she is in the advanced stages of another project piecing together how familial dynamics morph over time.

“Maybe it’s the next step after grief,” says Haragonics, describing the project to Variety before Thessaloniki Documentary Festival’s Industry event. “Don’t Worry Sári” was pitched last week at the Agora Docs in Progress and won the 119 Marvila Studios Award for sound mixing services. Haragonics’ feature debut, “Her Mothers” (co-directed with Asia Dér), premiered at Hot Docs in 2020 and was produced by the Hungarian Campfilm through Marcell Gero and Sára László, who was behind “Natural Light,” the Hungarian winner of Berlinale 2021’s best director prize. Producer Inez Mátis from the women-championing Pi Productions joined “Don’t Worry Sári” when László was already on board and said that the end result will be “a very emotional film,” providing opportunities to learn about family dynamics and relationships. The new project is also a Bulgarian co-production through Boris Despodov at Arthouse Blockbusters.

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“A few years after I made my first short, I realized that in a way, I’m continuing my mother’s role by trying to save all the male family members.” The director saw potential in this doubling and found it natural to make a film out of it. When she discovered an abundant family archive, with footage documenting her life since birth, she saw another parallel between herself and her late mother: both of them were using the camera to film “as a way of preserving memories and holding the family together.”

In the home videos, one can recognize a lot of everyday situations like the family meals, conversations or arguments, some of them following the mother’s direction. Young Sarí doing this or that for the camera appears sometimes as an archival snippet of the past, other times in dream sequences, in a more experimental way. Revisiting and reshaping personal archives, according to Haragonics, can be helpful for anyone “to understand the family dynamics and to understand why we became who we are today.”

Mátiz quoted the film’s logline (“To what extent are we responsible for the ones we love?”) to single out an alternative way to perceive responsibility. As a potential answer brought forward by the film, she hinted that “always being there may seem like the best way to help your family, but it’s not. Sometimes you can help them and yourself simply by stepping back.”

Exploring transgenerational heritage and mental health is part and parcel of Haragonics’ approach. In “Don’t Worry, Sári,” she includes herself not only by being visually present, but also through candid voiceovers. Over time, she had collected recordings of her dreams made after waking up—preserving their “weird atmospheric sound”—which would then find their place in the finished film. Instead of a monologue, the filmmaker prefers to call it “a kind of a dialogue with my mom, where I’m telling her about my inner feelings that are not really seen on the surface.” As a result, the film reflects on the discrepancies between one’s interior and exterior world.

Haragonics admitted that the seven year process so far has been nothing close to linear, with a lot of breaks in between periods of financial boosts. Now, the project has been backed by Creative Europe Media, but this irregular schedule had prompted the Hungarian filmmaker to look closely at the material—both old and new—and see her relationship with her family members anew. “It was like very intense therapy, learning about myself that way,” she says. Seeing the documentary form as a facilitator of knowledge sits at the heart of the project.

Additionally, the director noted that her academic background in participatory video—a methodology that supports communities or groups of people to make films about themselves—informs the cinema she makes. The reason why she makes films about her family has to do with an equality, which she deems necessary. “I have never wanted to make a documentary about someone who could be dependent on me in any way,” she says.

The Thessaloniki Documentary Festival runs March 7 – 17.

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