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Interview with director Annabella Schnabel


Annabella Schnabel is an award-winning Film Director and Screenwriter, living and creating in Budapest. In 2015, she graduated with Film Studies BA at Eötvös Lóránd University – and she decided to deepen her knowledge in filmmaking.
In 2018, she graduated with a Producer BA at the most prestigious film university in Hungary: at University of Theatre and Film Arts.
After this, she graduated in the same university on Film Directing MA in 2020, with her short film ‘Mom’s Cat’ – which premiered at the A-listed Academy Awards Qualifying 43rd Moscow IFF. Since that, Mom’s Cat became eligible for the 2023 Student Academy Awards submission by its festival circuit.

Her previous award-winning short films, ‘It’s a Match!‘ and ‘Referral‘ gained her international recognition for the first time though.

Currently she teaches Film and Media at Európa 2000 Microsoft Showcase High School, and works as a freelance filmmaker. 
Find out more about her at:

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

I’ve watched Eraserhead when I was 12. I think it was a milestone for me, because I encountered with a completely different film language what I’ve seen before. It was fascinating and I’ve started to escape watching arthouse films on my own. By the time time I turned 17, I got to know Stanley Kubrick, Lars von Trier and Tim Burton’s works – however, I wasn’t planning to become a filmmaker. It just happened to me gradually. However, I wrote a lots of short stories that time and I got selected in anthologies – so I surmised I can be a storyteller one day.. But my ultimate turning point was the Film Directing Master’s program at the most prestigious Hungarian film school (University of Theatre and Film Arts, Budapest), where I could learn from my favorite Hungarian Director, Péter Gothár.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

I think fantasy, empathy and courage are the most essential to become a successful filmmaker. And of course: a lots of hard work! I think film institutes are great for broadening connections, which can be inspiring – but this depends on the student. Lots of the great directors hasn’t gone to film schools.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Interesting question. For me, time is the hardest to conquer – I have so many ideas and it’s hard to pick one and stick with it. So maybe ‘keep going’ is more challenging, especially in live-action filmmaking where you are depending on your team. Sometimes the subject of the story is hard to process emotionally though – so it’s painful to start writing. Not because you don’t know how to write the story, but to face your emotional baggage.. So as summary, I think I had to conquer patience to keep my faith in the bigger picture.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

Authenticity. I think making a graduation film is especially challenging, because expectations surround the student from the school, and the million others. It is a truly frustrating period. I’ve had several situations where I needed to stand up for the film’s unique voice in a calm manner, when the producers tried to cut out my creative choices. Since the story was very personal for me, I suffered a lot – but it worth it. So I totally suggest everyone to stand up for themselves. Eventually, the film will thank to you!

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

It wasn’t easy to find the shooting dates because it was in the autumn – which is theatre season in Hungary. This delay was frustrating for the producers – and for me as well, since the school had its own deadline. And the delay had effected the postproduction, which was hit by the pandemic. It was like running a mega-marathon. I had to be very patient.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

There is a scene where Felix (the main character) is humiliated after he got fired. The actor couldn’t go in that shame on the set though. After 7 tries, I was hopeless, because I tried everything out and it seemed I had no other options than just hurting him – which I consider as an inhuman directing style. Since I had no other options though, I needed to do it. And it worked. After the take I’ve ran towards Attila Fritz and I told him it was just for the scene and I’m very sorry – then I gave a big hug to him. Even if it ended well, this was a hurtful experience for both of us.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

In the creative crew positions I’ve invited my old-time filmmaker friends, who I feel secure with. Supporting, lovely friends, whom we’ve grown together to this profession. They are my absolute safe-bubble, which was very helpful during the shoot.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I try to avoid worry in general. It’s not a good state of mind. It roots in fear, which limits creativity. I think the filmmaker should only focus on finding her/his authentic voice – and stick with it consistently. Whether if the audience likes it or not. Not to mention, there are other important angles than just pleasing the ‘wants’. As I’ve experienced, life is not working like this either. We can’t always get what we want; but we get what we need. Andy Warhol has a great quote in this topic though: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

Film festivals are wonderful opportunities to experience different Cultures and worldviews. They are true lifetime experiences, not to mention that they can be very refreshing visually. Beside the great inspiration and enjoyment though – every journey had shaped my personality. I got lovely new friends, I met new collaborators and I’ve experienced to speak English confidently. These are amazing gifts what I’m grateful for!

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I believe every kind of art is needed, and the filmmaker should choose what resonates with the story. I don’t bother with the labels – and I suggest everyone to not bother either! Stay true to your inner self, think it through..and make the magic!