Train to Adulthood


Klára Trencsényi
2015 | 79 mins
Country of Production: Hungary
Country Featured: Hungary
North American Premiere | Director in Attendance
Saturday, October 15 | Noon | Program F24

In 1948, the Communist leaders of Hungary built a narrow-gauge railway to be run entirely by a youth volunteer corps. This Children’s Railway still operates today, carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers each year. The film follows the stories of Hungarian teens Viktor, Carkme, and Gergö as they coordinate rail signals, sing train songs, and seek refuge from the economic and political instability around them. The world of the Children’s Railway is festive, well-ordered, and nostalgic, while the broader Hungarian landscape feels uncertain and chaotic. The trainbecomes a metaphor for Hungary today, longing for the past while barreling toward the future.

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Re:Frame, My Perspective

“During the development of Train to Adulthood, I found framing to be the biggest challenge in telling this sensitive coming of age story. When I first met my protagonists, Hungarian 12-year-old kids volunteering on the former Communist train, I understood that this train has come from much further away than its 12-kilometer track; it carries 70 years of history onboard. Moreover the history it carries has not been yet digested by Hungarians but has been been constantly reframed by changing regimes and presented to foreign audiences through different “filters.”

During the editing process I realized that I had to create a ‘new frame’ for the archival footage to invite a more nuanced reading of the past—so I turned the old propaganda images into personal, subjective memories of my protagonists. This way I managed to open a discussion about the central questions of my film: how did children grow up during the Communist times when they were held to be the bright future? What are the challenges they face today in a society that pretends to care for families but disregards their basic needs? Why are the children and the teenagers alienated in post-Communist Hungary?

In order to get an insight into the lives of my protagonists I spent three years with them and their families and constructed my film from intimate conversations and situations rather than interviews. The two-member crew became children’s companions during the filming and this helped them to deal with their hardships: from the vulnerable, abandoned children they grew to become dignified adults by the end of the shooting, proud of their struggles and achievements—and they became heroes of their own lives in the eyes of many others too. 

The close relationship we have established during the shooting carries on, as the protagonists assumed the film as theirs and join me for the screenings and discussions whenever they can.”

—Klára Trencsényi | Director, Train to Adulthood