A new feature-length documentary is retelling the story of the 70-day student blockade at Budapest’s University of Theatre and Film Arts (SZFE).
Directed by Noemi Hatala, Partizan follows students as they plan and take part in protests against increasing government control at the university. Alternating interviews with organisers, shots from brainstorming sessions, and dynamic scenes from the barricades themselves, the film shows university managers forced to resign amid a student barrage of dance performances, busking, techno parties, and street art.
The 2020 protests were a key episode in Hungary’s opposition to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s authoritarian rule and growing interference in the arts.
Hungarian authorities have restructured nine state universities in recent years, entrusting their ownership to private foundations — despite criticism that such groups are controlled by politically-appointed trustees. When officials announced that SZFE would undergo a similar change, rectors and department leaders at the 155-year-old institution, including the Berlinale-winning On Body and Soul director Ildikó Enyedi, resigned in protest. Students, meanwhile, launched ongoing demonstrations, blockading the university building.
In the documentary, one member of staff is filmed asking students “not to demonstrate or make a revolution.” One replies: “The big picture is that there is a political takeover happening: it’s not the first and not the last one in this country but for us, enough is enough.”
“Sometimes it was heartbreaking to see students’ struggles, sometimes it was super exciting to see their achievements or simply their way of thinking,” the director, Noemi Hatala, told The Calvert Journal. “I feel like I’ve managed to document the most exciting part of this blockade and the very beginning of the movement.”