Background & Need | Approach, Structure & Style | Themes | Letter From Gabor Boritt | Director's Statement | Links

Approach, Structure & Style

Budapest to Gettysburg will unite the vast scope of a documentary examining major events in world history within the intimacy of a father-son relationship. Two significant historical epochs, the American Civil War and World War II/Cold War Europe, will be depicted using archival audio, stills and motion pictures. Images will juxtapose the clashes of Gabor’s life and work: Hitler and Lincoln, monuments to Communist and Civil War heroes, the dead of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Siege of Budapest. Pivotal events like the Civil War, World War II and the Holocaust will be tempered with intensely personal scenes. Such moments include Gabor’s return to the train station of the village in which his grandparents lived sixty years earlier. When he was a boy, his grandfather greeted him here upon his arrival for visits. Today, Gabor stands on its concrete platform staring at a line of rusting cattle cars. It is the station in which his grandfather boarded a train for Auschwitz.

Artful cinematography will capture the unique feel of diverse locales, ranging from the hills of Buda rising above the Danube, to the haunted concrete gas chambers of Auschwitz, to the prairies of South Dakota, to the fertile farmland of Gettysburg. These vast cultural landscapes will come alive amid a soundtrack of Jewish chants, Hungarian melodies, Gypsy folk songs, Nazi and Soviet propaganda, and American hits from the 1860s and 1960s. Interviews with family members, personal acquaintances and historical experts will add depth to Gabor’s journey. Finally, there will be cinema verité footage following Gabor. This film will capture moments of a father sharing his life and feelings with his son.

The film is unique in its approach because it tackles ostensibly incongruent history, crafting a coherent narrative via Gabor’s experiences. Content such as World War II, the Holocaust and the 1956 Revolution mesh with Lincoln and the Civil War, leading to new insights. The film will break out of historical documentaryforms to interpret the pastthrough the unique lens of a man who lived one history, yet mastered another. It will fuse epic history with the intimacy of a son videotaping his dad.

As the story of Gabor’s life unfolds, several reoccurring themes will be explored. The program will cut between the life he had and the life he has made. An example: During the 1956 Revolution, Gabor helped tear down a massive 30-foot-tall statue of Stalin from its concrete platform. As it lay in a city square, he took a hammer to the head of this hated symbol of tyranny and broke off a chunk for himself. Decades later, Gabor would be the driving force behind erecting a statue of Lincoln in Gettysburg’s town square. Sculpted by Seward Johnson, the life-size statue stands at street level, resting his hand on the shoulder of a “common man.”

When he came to the U.S., Gabor was able to keep few things from his life in Hungary. Among them were a couple of books by his favorite authors, and that fragment from the Stalin statue. After living in the U.S. for several years, it became apparent that he would never live in his native land again. He stopped speaking Hungarian, stopped practicing Judaism, changed his surname, and the budding historian threw away all artifacts of his own past. He fully embraced his new home, his future. Today, while Gabor has a large and valuable collection of American-history artifacts, including bayonets and bullets dug from the ground around his home, he has almost nothing from his early life. In this film, he will look back at the details of the past he left behind. Gabor did not choose to focus on American history simply as a profession, or even out of passion for the subject. He was searching for a new identity to replace the one that he gave up. In understanding Lincoln, we will understand Gabor, and in understanding Gabor, we will come to a better understanding of Lincoln.

In the midst of rolling Pennsylvania farmland, Gabor describes soldiers enduring relentless fire as they marched toward the “high watermark of the Confederacy,” the climax of Pickett’s Charge. In the dark basement of a Budapest apartment building, still dotted with bullet pockmarks, Gabor recounts another relentless attack. Fifty years earlier, he huddled with his family in this blackness as Soviet tanks bombarded the building. Eventually, the structure crumbled. Gabor and his family escaped through a window shaft.

“This is the quintessential American story, a testimony to the American dream.”

Filmmaker David Grubin

Winner of nine Emmy Awards

The film will also explore America’s shortcomings through the unique perspective of an outsider who is a historical expert. Gabor wore a yellow star, his grandfather was murdered in Auschwitz, and his father and brother were unjustly imprisoned by Communist police. He came to America hoping to escape the ethnic and racial hatred that devastated his native land. Quickly he would witness a darker side of America’s promise. As a young college student in South Dakota, he worked farm fields with migrant Mexican laborers for a dollar an hour. He considered it a lot of money. One day a vehicle pulled to the side of the road. A man started shooting at the workers. Gabor was too new to America to understand the unspoken racism attached to each of those bullets. He learned quickly. He saw the hopelessness of life on the local Sioux Indian reservation, and helped organize a boycott of the town’s barbershop when it refused to serve African-Americans. For an immigrant attracted to the promise of America, what do these experiences contribute to his embrace of Lincoln?