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Hungarian film shines light on Roma persecution

Director Fliegauf poses during photocall to promote movie "Csak a Szel" at 62nd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin
Director Fliegauf poses during photocall to promote movie "Csak a Szel" at 62nd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin

By Sarah Marsh

BERLIN (Reuters) - A non-professional cast of Roma actors portray a family struggling to survive in "Just the Wind," a gritty drama inspired by real-life attacks against Hungary's Roma community which premieres on Thursday at the Berlin Film Festival.

The film, by Hungarian director Bence Fliegauf, depicts a family living in a shack in a wood where several other Roma families have already been gunned down.

Shaky close-ups create an atmosphere of fearful entrapment and the characters rarely talk, remaining tight-lipped and steely-faced in the face of the omnipresent threat.

Fliegauf says he was compelled to make the movie after a series of attacks between 2008 and 2009 on the Roma community involving Molotov cocktails, shotguns and rifles.

"I was shocked by the events, I remember waking up in my sleep with nightmares, I saw shotgun flashes." he told Reuters.

"Of course I hope this movie is going to make a difference."

Fliegauf grew up with Roma friends and had a Roma girlfriend as a teenager, but then lost touch with the community.

He says it was only during his year of research for the film that he realized how difficult their plight had become since the fall of communism some two decades ago.

"After the political system changed, of course they were laid off first and that's when the situation got bad," he said.

The director depicts and denounces prejudices against the Roma in "Just the Wind." The mother works from dawn to dusk but is accused of laziness, while the daughter is diligent at school but is suspected of stealing.

The term Roma refers to various groups of people who describe themselves as Roma, Gypsies, Travellers, Manouches, Ashkali, Sinti and other titles.

They have been migrating across Europe for centuries and now form the biggest ethnic minority in the European Union.

TABOOS

Anti-Roma tensions loom large in Hungary, which has long struggled to integrate the large community.

Katalin Toldi, who plays the family's mother Mari in the film although she had never previously acted, said she was terrified during the recent spate of violence.

"I was wondering, what will happen if they come to my home, and my father or my child is killed," she said.

At a news conference for "Just the Wind," Hungary's Justice Ministry surprised the film's crew by handing out pamphlets stressing it was fictional and highlighting measures taken to support the Roma.

Fliegauf said he was surprised some people were critical of the film for painting a negative image of Hungary.

"For the image of a country, it is very important that social criticism can be treated in a film and that there are no taboos," he said.

Hungary's government provoked European outcry last year with a new media law that critics say curbed the independence of the media and freedom of expression.

The Berlin Film Festival, which runs until February 19, has a reputation for engaging in political debate -- last year it became a platform to protest against the arrest of Iranian director Jafar Panahi.

(Reporting By Sarah Marsh; Additional reporting by Tanya Wood; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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