Winter 1957: 29-year-old Gabor Szilasi disembarks in Halifax with a suitcase in one hand and a camera in the other. He reaches Canada by boat with his father Sandor, following a few months spent in Vienna escaping the aftermath the 1956 Hungarian uprising. From his first years in Quebec, Gabor’s unique perspective on his land of welcome in the midst of the Quiet Revolution is quickly captured by his camera.
GABOR recounts the intimate story of a Hungarian migrant who fled a communist regime to experience the harsh clash between a traditional Catholic way of life, and a more modern, secular society. From his sociological series showing life in rural Quebec, to his images of Montreal’s vernacular architecture, there is an impressive artistic coherence between the choice of his subjects and the use of his favorite theme: “the study of man and his habitat”. As an immigrant with a curious and fascinated eye, his point of view remains relevant in a world where migration is still a major international issue.
As a dedicated humanist photographer and a witness of his time, Gabor is both chronicler and protagonist. He is an inspiring human being who loves to forge relationships with people. Despite his age, he has a sharp take on his adopted society, maintains impressive health and lucidity, and still keeps a touch of madness and an enviable sense of humor.
He lives and plays in Montreal with his wife of the last 50 years, Doreen Lindsay.
Documentary filmmaker and photographer, Joannie Lafrenière loves human beings. Holding degrees in journalism and photography, Joannie has contributed to several recognized publications and has had the chance to be part of many different inspiring independent projects. Her documentary projects have been shown in major festivals across Canada and abroad.
She uses the codes and aesthetics of pop culture playfully, along with the power of kitsch, to avoid the trap of caricature. Her work is informed by an anthropological approach, and she uses the camera as an excuse to establish relationships with people who tickle her curiosity: she then highlights them through portraits in which humanity, fantasy, color and humor are central.
Gabor & Joannie
I immediately had a crush on Gabor Szilasi, who photographs what seems ordinary, like an archivist of our collective memory. I had the privilege of discovering his work during a retrospective exhibit entitled The Eloquence of Everyday (2009), back when I was a photography student. This exhibit had a major impact on me and strengthened my desire to work as a photographer.
Following this epiphany, I had an enduring admiration for his work. As I watched him interacting with the photographer community at the Rencontres internationales de la photographie en Gaspésie (where we met for the first time during the summer of 2015), I was won over by Gabor, the man behind the lens. We talked a lot, and I was thrilled to realize that his images were a reflection of his personality, i.e. that of a humanist who is always eager to discover other people and to respectfully depict them, without judgment and, often, with a touch of his signature sense of humour.
When we met, Gabor was 87, and I remember being struck by his liveliness and his positive outlook. It became obvious to me that a film should be made about him. I enthusiastically took on this task, to showcase his work, of course, but also the man behind the camera, in all his depth, complexity, fragility, resilience, beauty and greatness. I wanted to offer Gabor the same kind of sensible memory he has left to all of us in Quebec through his humanist photography work.
Six years later, after several trips abroad, many nights out at the movies or the theatre, road trips across Quebec, plenty of fortuitous meetings with generous and inspiring strangers, a few Bloody Caesars sipped by the river, countless discussions filled with wit and curiosity, a pandemic faced with courage and resilience, dozens of pictures taken with sensibility, and hours and hours of footage shot with care and love, we can finally say mission accomplished. Here is GABOR, the film, by Joannie Lafrenière, in 101 minutes flat.
In the spring 2022 issue of Ciné-Bulles, there is an interview of Michel Coulombe with Joannie in