Katja Sallay

Katja was born in Budapest, Hungary and came to Germany when she was 3. By the age of 16 she bought a S-VHS camera and shot her first short. When she turned 20 she became a 1st AC for cinema, TV and commercials. She studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Inst. LA and played main parts in theatre and film until today. Her script to her debut film “5 Seasons – a journey” finally took her back to: directing.

Your project has entered in our festival. What is your project about?
Every European year has them: spring, summer, fall and winter. And as much we wish to optimize that and adapt it to our personal needs, the 5th season comes for all of us: death. Three siblings accompany their Jewish Hungarian mom onto her last journey. After her death a cruel winter begins with new encounters, truths and a lot of bad decisions. That's what they call grief. In spring they're stranding in Budapest, searching for their mother's roots... and find their own.


What are your ambitions with your project?
5S is my 1st feature film as a director. And this is the way I wanted to pave for my future self: being able to create. I founded a production company, Pinto Pictures, and took a lot of responsibility in writing, directing, acting and also producing this film (besides other producers), which was of course a load of work, but I have to say that I found it liberating to really create just that what I believe to be right for the film. I mean, when will you be as free again as in an independent production?! I wrote the dialogues in very common and “real” German, I wanted to create a reality in acting that I am missing very much in my actor’s life. My more philosophical ambition with this film was to really – really!- show death and grief. You don’t see often in films how clumsy, how cruel, but also how beautiful death can sometimes be. I experienced it often enough in my life and I find myself always in the situation, that people avoid this topic, that they even avoid you as a griefing person, they feel awkward around you. I wanted to openly show what can happen (every death is unique) and that there can also be a beauty to it. In my personal experience I experienced that the much more difficult part of loss is grief. There is never beauty, but most likely destruction and self-punishment, isolation, substance abuse and so on. And no grieving person should be ashamed to behave badly: it’s like being in love, you can’t help it. Hormones take over. I wanted to demarginalize these topics. We will all eventually get there: why not open up and be real about it?

Tell us something about your shooting? What pleasantly surprised you?
Since we shot in the pandemic years (within the range of 10 months to catch the real seasons), we were legally very restricted sometimes. I don’t know exactly how, but suddenly I had like a bottle opener for the hearts in my pocket and so many people said “yes” to this project and supported us in whatever way. This was truly incredible and makes me smile and teary at the same time until this very day. But of course, the circumstances also made the shooting very difficult. But these are the times when you get the most creative: We experiences 3 hardcore lockdowns in Germany, 1 in Hungary, about 460 Corona tests and 4083 “that’s not possible”s One could definitely claim we got kicked out of ourcomfort zones. Daily. Hourly. I admit, I never want to shoot like this again and there were a lot of blood, sweat and tears, all three of them, but my team and cast really felt obligated to push through and make this film happen. I will never forget that. Never ever.


For what group of spectators is your film targeted?
That’s a very interesting question: we first speculated to attract mostly younger people cause of the vile language and the soundtrack we created with mostly very young musicians from the Popakademie Baden-Württemberg. But we realized, that also older people came after screenings and were deeply touched. I realized, that a 30-minute dying scene is tough to watch, but I guess this is for every audience being in touch with their emotions and not being afraid to feel them… we’ll make you J Also, this film deals with the topic of migration, of being born somewhere else, of having your roots or your heart somewhere else. Or having these parents talking with accents… So, also people with another background as from where they live now feel strongly about this film, regarding the feedback we got from festival screenings.

Why should distributors buy your film?
It’s vile, it’s real, you’re allowed to laugh, you’re obligated to cry: that’s cinema, baby!

How would you specify your work? What characterizes your film?
The language and the corky situations and characters. Guess that’s my vice.

Why did you decided to become a filmmaker?
I didn’t – it kinda chose me. I bought a S-VHS camera when I was 16 and made my 1st short film. And, bam, I was hooked.

Who is your role model?
Directorwise? Denis Villeneuve, Darren Aronovsky, Michael Mann, Kathryn Bigelow, on the German front Dominik Graf and in capital letters: ILDIKÓ ENYEDI.

Which movies are your favorites? Why?
This might change on a daily basis, but some real mile stones for me were: Gilbert Grape, On Body and Soul, Heat, Vanishing Point, The Big Blue, Betty Blue, Trois Couleurs: bleu, blanc, rouge, Irreversible, La Haine, Smoke, Reality Bites, The Woman who sings, Hotte im Paradies… because they were R E A L.

Where do you look for inspiration for your films?
Everywhere. From the Döner spot outside my door, to the woods, to public toilets, to watching travelling people, to watch people at the supermarket, to watch pigeons… everything, everywhere, all at once :-)

Which topics interest you the most?
My “soft spots” are background and heritage. Maybe because I have so much of it and so little family left. This was a big adjustment for me in life. But I’m also or even mostly interested in the corky-funny-hyper-dramatic situations in life and how they are mostly all of the mentioned at once. Life?!

What do you consider your greatest achievement in your career?
Definitely my first film. It changed my life – and me. It may have saved me.

What do you consider most important about filming?
Respect, research, hard work, humble work. You know that saying “Knowledge is power”? True. The more you know about the different departments, the more respectful you might treat them. If you don’t know their work: shut up and watch (or ask). It’s like a relationship: if you value the opponent party, you will receive the same value. So I really guess respect and curiosity will get you through any shoot. Also: be prepared to change course. Filming isn’t google maps. Stay fresh.

Which film technique of shooting do you consider the best?
You mean equipmentwise or stylewise? I’m a big fan of fluidity; so having a gimble around give you the smoothness of a “money” film and the alertness of a shoulder camera.

How would you rate/What is your opinion about current filmmaking?
I think it’s absolutely fantastic, that so many indie films have the chance to be made nowadays. You can do basically anything technically, even with a lower budget. However, we – especially in Germany, where I am situated – are lacking a sense of bravery. We are much too comfortable and too concerned about public opinion and selling points. That all has to be taken in consideration in the production department, but art should never be comfortable. We need more riots in directing!

What can disappoint you in a movie?
Too much opinion, too much insta content. Lack of bravery and vision. Bad acting, stiff, informative dialogues. Vain acting! Sloppy characters. Flat characters. Too much beauty make up.

Who supports you in your film career?
Along the journey of my first film, many people turned out to become quite the supporters. I.e. my agent, who was actually my acting agent, helped me to be more diplomatic in communications, took me in into the director’s segment of the agency and is one of my biggest fans. I’m so deeply touched by this. Also, my DoP has always been there for me, as well as some of my actors and actresses and my costume designer, who sticked with me even after the film and whom I want to work with again. Many of my former staff do support me until this very day. And last but never! least: my baby sister, who jumped in and produced this movie like she was born for it. Köszi, boobah!

What are the reactions to your film? (opinion of spectators, film critics, friends and family)
People in the audience react quite a lot. There are some scenes that suggest a little laugh only to jump into the other direction and become very sad or harsh. So, you might hear them swallowing the laughter; that happened quite a lot. And people do cry in this movie: this is the biggest compliment for me. Also, people tell me a lot, that they were relieved to see my “death” scene, because this is what they may have done, when their loved ones died. They felt understood and
relieved someone showed this situation. They also indentify with the relationships to the egocentric parents (here fathers) and they have especially sympathy with our torturing role “Darth Father”, who constantly terrorizes his daughter with phone calls and his needs. He gets the most chuckles, tough. Argh. ;-)) Since the three leads are dealing very differently with death and grief, many people find themselves in them; many audience members told me, that they became fond of them, because they make all the oh so human mistakes you and me might do when in this situation. I also have this special group of people of another descent than the country/ culture they live in: this group is really touched by our story, since finding the roots of your parents and in the end your own roots, is a key story in our film. Since we have a wide range of emotions, people often become very “honest” and interested after screenings and want to know all sort of things and details, maybe because they have been emotionally shaken for the past two hours and they want to open up. Whenever we had a Q&A, people were interacting very intensively and purely. This deeply touches me.

7Have you already visited any of the prestigious film festivals?
We had our German premiere at the Achtung Berlin Film Festival and the International at the Festival of Cinema NYC, where we have been nominated for “best narrative feature” and “best ensemble”; “best ensemble” we won. We’ll be travelling now to Verona International Filmfestival where our movie will be streamed 29.08.-14.09 in their new section “on/off selection” veronafilmfestival.org/off-on-selection , then will attend the Septimius Awards in Amsterdam and are officially selected at Richmond International Filmfestival. A few smaller German festivals in between. We will see what else will come along, right now it’s a very exciting and vibrant autumn.

What are your future plans in filmmaking carriere?
I want to do my 2nd feature; I’m working on prepping the script right now and I want to realize it with my one of my favorite actors Mišel Matičević, who wrote me a letter of intent for the project. So, I’ll basically write it on him. I want to continue shooting within Europe and use the freedom of borderlessness we enjoy here. I find it interesting to shoot in different countries and “stretch my legs”. We plan to also include L.A. … they say dream big, write big, right? 

Learn more at https://www.5seasonsfilm.com/