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Kriszta Doczy, courtesy Artfilms Kriszta Doczy, courtesy Artfilms
KRISZTA DOCZY IS THE FOUNDER OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS MEDIA WHICH PROVIDES, UNDER THE ARTFILMS BANNER, A SUBSTANTIAL CATALOGUE (4,000 FILMS) OF INTERNATIONAL ART ON DVD—DANCE, DESIGN, VISUAL ART, MUSIC, NEW MEDIA, THEATRE AND INDEPENDENT AND AVANT GARDE FILM—WITH A GROWING AND SIGNIFICANT AUSTRALIAN COMPONENT. THESE DVDS ARE INVALUABLE FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS OFFERING A SENSE OF ARTWORKS AND PERFORMANCES UNLIKELY TO BE EXPERIENCED FIRST-HAND, OR RARE EXPERIMENTAL FILMS TRANSFERRED EXPERTLY FROM 16MM.

Doczy’s most recent project has been the realisation of Australian Avant Garde, handsomely packed DVD sets of Sydney Underground Movies: Ubu Films, 1965-70 and The Experimental Films of Garry Shead (most made in the 60s and early 70s). You’ll be able to read more about this important act of cultural archiving in RealTime 107.

After years of email contact, Virginia Baxter and I finally met Melbourne-based Kriszta Doczy at the RealTime office in Sydney. Her enthusiasm is infectious, imbued with cheerful determination to bring more innovative Australian art into the international fold of her catalogue, encouraging individuals and companies to make their archival material available, producing and helping them shape the DVDs. We were curious about Doczy’s background and how she came to create Contemporary Arts Media.

At 17, in Communist Hungary, she wanted to be an actor and so joined a mime and dance company: “This was 1969. Everybody was fascinated with Marcel Marceau and the Lecoq style. We trained in contemporary mime but also acrobatics, dance, ballet, you name it, and acting. At the same time Grotowski was in Poland and we took our work to the same festivals. Our company, Domino, disappeared from the face of the Earth—we were banned by the Communist government, we were unemployed, we went underground. But we also toured a lot in Europe. Fifteen years of performing in experimental theatre! We played in cellars and basements, in parks. Then we started to do well so we were on television a lot. The government couldn’t prohibit us after a while. They just tolerated us. But we didn’t get any money. We were ‘starving artists’ but we worked, we had a school and it was buzzing.”

Feeling exhausted and disillusioned by the relentless pressures of theatre-making, Doczy, with her three-year-old first child left art behind her: “At 30 years of age I didn’t have a profession. I didn’t have an education except for high school. I was a single mother in a country where there was no support. So I got jobs in marketing because I spoke English and German. I met my second husband, a blues musician and mathematician, and we left Hungary. By then I was fed up with the entire system. I was 40-years-old when we left. I was pregnant and we spent a year in a refugee camp in Austria, which I could write an entire novel about...We very happily came to Australia. We were accepted on humanitarian grounds. We paid for our tickets and started from zero point absolutely.”

Doczy and family went to live in Perth and then Fremantle. The one thing she laments is never being able to secure a full-time job: “I wanted any sort of job, a normal job. My children were growing up and it was crucial. I wasn’t even thinking about theatre. That was so far away anyway. Conscious Living was a new age magazine, and they employed me in the 1990s using a numerology reading! And I had to sell advertisements. I redesigned the entire magazine. I was fascinated by computers, which came out at the time. We bought a computer and I started to work on it. Ever since I’ve done graphic design. I’m now designing lots of the materials and covers for Artfilms. It’s an endless playground.”

But Doczy was lured back into theatre, running workshops under the aegis of Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and then being offered residencies at Edith Cowan, Murdoch and Curtin Universities. “As bad as it sounds, I had to teach a lot of (traditional) mime. There was nobody teaching things like ‘the invisible wall’ and ‘walking against the wind’.” She decided to take her teaching skills to other cities, to universities in Melbourne, a private class in Sydney, “teaching experimental concepts of movement theatre.” She enjoyed the travel but continued to work in Perth “with performers like George Shevtsov and Stefan Karlsson. I put together a kind of theatre group (Shadow Industries) which did Mrozek’s Tango and an adaptation of Peter Carey’s story “Do You Love Me”—that was probably the best show I did.”

Next came a stint in New York where Doczy’s by then partner “was the Chair at City University of New York which employed me as an adjunct assistant professor teaching experimental theatre. That was a highlight. I was teaching and directing an adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial, a huge production. Big theatre. Big show. Big audience. Beautiful review. 10/10. We were invited to Korea as well: all 13 students, 20 people altogether. At that time I was at the peak of everything. I had a concept about what I wanted to teach—connect (to the body), control and communicate. I started to apply for full-time jobs in America and I was shortlisted a couple of times. And I almost got a job. Almost. But at the end I didn’t. Meanwhile, my children were in Australia and I had limited time. I came back and that was the time I looked into the mirror and I said ‘no more.’ I need a salary.”

So in 2000, Doczy made “three little films on how to teach mime, mask and mask making. My uncle and aunt did some of the work with me. I thought let’s see if I can develop this into a salary. I printed a brochure, secured new films on Commedia and some other teaching films within theatre studies and I sent it out. I had this little distribution company. In about half a year I had an annual salary.”

I wondered how Doczy sourced the films for her very global catalogue. She tells me, “I connected with the artists I knew. I found an international master in Commedia who was starving and I convinced him to make a film. This is my best-selling film ever. Then I met Peter Oyston (founding Dean of Drama at VCA) who became a good friend who helped with the Stanislavski stuff. Because I was teaching drama and also because I was teaching at the academy, I knew what I needed, what I had to show students so they knew what I was talking about—Grotowski, Kantor. With Kantor I found an institute that had the films and I started to correspond with them. At that stage I did nothing about the curriculum in Australia because every state has a different one. So I just thought I’d represent an international curriculum. So that was my approach. Who do I think important to teach? Getting the European material, nobody was doing it at the time. As soon as I started to put out these catalogues, there was a big response—“Oh god, how did you get this?” So that was very welcoming from the beginning. People loved the idea that they could get this material. Nowadays we do a lot of Australian work and I’m just so happy with that.”

Doczy finds most artists she deals with are “very open and very generous. I have their trust and we are so fussy about rights and agreements and all of that. Most have become friends during these years. Sometimes I’m sitting in my pyjamas in Melbourne talking to New York because we’ve set up an appointment with someone like (dance documentarian) Elliot Caplan and he’s in a New York café and he wants to switch on Skype! Obviously the internet is a big thing for us.”

Ironically, as Doczy was building Contemporary Arts Media, she found she still wanted to teach and approached the Head of Music Theatre at WAAPA in 2000. “I’d been teaching for one-and-a-half-years in New York with freelancing actors on the Lower East Side and at the university, [I said] I would really like to teach one unit one evening.” This teaching evolved from 20 students once a week to an entire class of first year acting students and in 2005 she was, at last, offered a full semester teaching job. “I had to say, I can’t. Ten years back I would have died for this job but now I’m running a company. It’s a beautiful company. I can’t wish for more than that. Too late!”

Nowadays, Doczy is based in Melbourne where Simon Rashleigh is Director of Marketing for Contemporary Arts Media, Doczy is Director of Acquisition and Product Development, while Josh Wickham does customer service and graphic designer Effie Shuie works from Taiwan. Doczy says, “We have Eszter in Budapest helping out with product development. And we have Alix Jackson as Production Manager and Editor doing lots of remastering. We have a web developer, filmmakers and others working for us. I’m working for a UK sister company that I’m establishing in London. It’s registered as Artfilms UK. It’s just started. We have a fairly good UK market.”

We return to the subject of the internet: “Our company is developing along with the internet,” says Doczy. “Five years ago there was no way that it would have been possible—multilevel price shopping trolleys for instance. If you go online from the UK, you see every price in pounds. We’re enabling certain discounts for certain countries. If you log in from Ethiopia, you immediately receive 70% discount. It’s a very sophisticated system. Protecting rights for instance: there are films that are available everywhere to us except Germany, France and Japan. Now we’re into an educational streaming system. Universities buy an educational subscription per module, like the Experimental Theatre module or Australian Cinema—different modules for x amount of films and everybody from that campus, the academics or the students, can access them.”

As with much else about the evolution of Contemporary Arts Media, the development of the company’s internet capacity grew from the ground up: “I wouldn’t have been able to establish this company at the time in 2000 if I hadn’t had a teenage son who learned the computer from me as he sat in my lap from age three. Then he was the IT, the website designer, database manager. He set up everything, the network and the system when he was 12 years old. He’s now outgrown us. He’s in London and working as a multimedia designer. My older son, with whom I ran away from theatre when he was three, received a PhD from the London School of Economics and is occasionally an advisor on business matters.”

I’m curious about the markets for Doczy’s catalogue; which is the biggest? “Half is Australia and the other half is between US and UK, mostly US. When we look at who is watching our website, 90% is from the US. The other interesting thing is that although we never really cared about private sales because that is like selling bread and butter—we couldn’t actually exist on it—an increasing number of individuals are buying from us with sales doubling each year. On YouTube we have a channel with one and a half million people watching the film clips. It’s a big playground but as you know from your own experience, it’s a lot of work.”

Kriszta Doczy reflects on her experience of Australia and the creation of Contemporary Media Arts: “My heart is totally Australian but these refugees who are coming from Africa and elsewhere are having a very hard time. We got a lot of help from the government when we came—a lot of help. Big baskets of food. A caseworker. My husband went immediately to a postgraduate course because he was a mathematician. Later I went to university and finished a psychology degree when I was 50-years-old. Australia is a wonderful country but there’s a certain limit. I didn’t get a job. But then I created a job and created work for lots of people—and I got lots of support for that.”


Contemporary Arts Media - Australia; www.artfilms.com.au; Artfilms Limited - United Kingdom, www.artfilms.co.uk

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 29

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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