RIP, Andy!

Yesterday, the Hungarian nation and the world of motion pictures lost a great man. Andrew G. Vajna, or as the world knows him, Andy Vajna, the producer behind blockbuster movies and committed supporter of the Hungarian film industry, died at age 74 in his Budapest home, succumbing to a long illness.

Vajna, the government commissioner responsible for the development of Hungary’s film industry, was born in Budapest in 1944. He escaped Hungary in December 1956, at the age of 12 and alone. With the help of the Red Cross, he emigrated to North America and settled in the United States.

After studying at the University of California Los Angeles, Andy Vajna began working at the university’s Educational Motion Picture Department. In the early days of his career, he established his own photography studio and operated cinemas in Hong Kong before eventually becoming a producer.

He was prolific. He produced 59 films, including Evita, starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas; Rambo, with Sylvester Stallone; and Terminator and Total Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He worked with other marquee names such as Michael Douglas, Anthony Hopkins, Scarlett Johansson, Demi Moore, Robert de Niro, Gary Oldman and Sharon Stone.

He made it big in Hollywood, but along the way, he never forgot his Hungarian roots and worked to give back by bringing his knowledge and experience to the Hungarian film industry. For the fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, he produced a film entitled "Children of Glory," one of the best feature films ever made about the freedom fighters of 1956, and personally presented the film to then President Bush in Washington.

In 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán chose Vajna to lead the renewal of Hungarian film production, appointing him as government commissioner in charge of the development of Hungary’s film industry. He set up the Hungarian National Film Fund, which supported several internationally acclaimed Hungarian films, such as Son of Saul, On Body and Soul, 1945 and Kincsem.

During the “Vajna era,” Hungarian films won hundreds of prizes including two Oscars, an Oscar nomination, a Golden Globe, Bafta, prizes from Cannes, a Golden Bear and a first prize in Karlovy Vary. Today, thanks to his determined promotion of Hungary’s outstanding film production infrastructure and local talent, more international film productions choose Budapest and Hungary as a destination than ever before.

A remarkably successful and exceptionally talented man, a great producer and a true Hungarian patriot has passed away. Hollywood will not be the same without him, and the new golden age of Hungarian film production would not have been possible without Andy Vajna.

Don’t miss the Memory Project’s interview with Vajna where he talks about 1956 and life in the motion picture industry. Available here.