Ilona Kolonits

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Ilona Kolonits (17 March 1922, Budapest - 2 August 2002, Budapest) was a Hungarian documentary film director and international news correspondent. She was one of the first women war correspondents amongst the first women film directors in Hungary. Kolonits' films were known for their lyrical treatment of grand historical events as well as the lives of ordinary people. Ilona Kolonoits received numerous awards and nominations throughout her career, including international film festivals in Paris, Moscow, Oberhausen, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Berlin, Leipzig, Mexico City and Budapest.[1] Ilona Kolonits has been awarded the title Righteous Among the Nations and the 'Pro Virtue' Award for Courage of the Republic of Hungary for saving the lives of many during the Second World War.

Ilona Kolonits, Paulina, Paola and Margit Kolonits, Righteous Amongst the Nations Medal


Ilona Kolonits' father, Ferenc Kolonits and mother Paulina Kolonits (née Holka) were respected humanitarian activists who took an active part in the Hungarian Anti-fascist resistance movement in the Second World War. A young girl herself, at the age of 22, Ilona rescued over 40 children from the Budapest Ghetto who were destined to be deported and killed in the Nazi's concentration camps. Alongside her mother, Paolina Kolonits (née Holka), and Ilona's two sisters, Margit and Paola, Ilona Kolonits was awarded the Righteous Among the Nations title by Yad Vashem) posthumous in 2007 in recognition of saving the lives of numerous people during the Second World War.[2] The Kolonits family sheltered in their country home and also their fashion boutique in Budapest a great number of Jewish people and intellectuals persecuted by the Nazis this way saving them from being killed by the fascists in Hungary or in death camps. Ilona's elder sister, Margit Kolonits rescued children of Jewish prisoners while they were being deported. Amongst others the Kolonits family rescued and adopted an orphan of the Holocaust, Erzsebet Garai, the later well known film theoretician and editor of the Filmkultura. In 1944 Ilona's father, Ferenc Kolonits was deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp for his Anti-fascist activities along with other leading members of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party. He took part in organising the Buchenwald Resistance movement and fought to liberate the prisoners from the camp.

Apart from rescuing people Ilona Kolonits also took part in carrying messages during the Nazi occupation between groups taking part in resistance in various parts of Budapest. During the Siege of Budapest she was cut off from her family, on the other side of the city over the Danube river and was stranded in a cellar for several weeks without food and very little water. She wrote a farewell note to her family but was fortunately saved when the Nazis were driven out of Budapest by the advancing 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Front of the Soviet Army. Witnessing at first hand the brutal fascist persecutions, numerous atrocities from the Nazis against minorities and the street fights in Budapest during the Second World War made a lasting impression on Ilona Kolonits and formed her lifelong commitment to international peace and humanitarian affairs.[3]

In her youth Ilona Kolonits along with her sisters enjoyed athletic sports. In the Anti-fascist movement she befriended many young Hungarian intellectuals, writers, artists and poets including the poet Attila József, and she was a member of the intellectual and artistic Fészek Art Club in Budapest. After the war she studied at the Academy of Drama and Film in Budapest, and in 1953 completed a PhD in Documentary Film and Cinema. In 1954 Kolonits became one of the first Hungarian women academicians and a fellow of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences alongside Elizabeth Garai and Yvette Biro. [1]

Personal life[edit]

Ilona Kolonits was considered by those who knew her to be exceptionally kind and courageous, gentle yet light hearted, with a 'twinkle in her eye'. Throughout her life she never spoke of the numerous rescues of children and adults she carried out during the Second World War. Ilona Kolonits lived very modestly with her parents in their home in a green suburb of Budapest. Without mentioning it she often gave anonymously large amounts from her income to charity and humanitarian causes supporting children orphaned due to military conflicts and war. She enjoyed spending her free time in private, with her family, her sisters and their children and grandchildren with whom she liked to share nature walks and gardening.

Although a striking, tall beauty, a refined and elegant woman, Ilona Kolonits never married nor had any romantic relationships. She dedicated her entire life to her humanitarian calling of a documentary film director and international news correspondent. The only romantic interest Ilona had was a youthful platonic fascination with the young Hungarian poet Attila József. Their age difference, Attila József's commitments and his early death made any relationship between them impossible. The young Ilona was influenced by the poet's artistic talent, patriotic feelings and pacifist activities. They met in the Hungarian Anti-fascist resistance movement. Ilona heard Attila József's speeches at meetings arguing against social injustice, condemning the Death Penalty and supporting the cause of the oppressed minorities. Ilona shared his humanitarian values and lived by them throughout her life.

Ilona Kolonits liked to read and had a particular interest in contemporary literature and sciences. She built a considerable private library of 20th century literature. Her last wish to her family was that Attila József's poem, At The Danube (1936), might be read out at her memorial service, in expression of her shared with the poet hope of peace and of national and international reconciliation.

Ilona Kolonits died in Budapest in 2002 at the age of 80. Her ashes are resting alongside those of her parents in the historical pantheon of the Farkasréti Cemetery in Budapest.[4]


Between 1951 and 1989 Ilona Kolonits was employed as film director at the Mafilm Film Studios in Budapest and later at the Hungarian Documentary Film Studios. While other Hungarian women filmmakers of her generation including Márta Mészáros and Ilona Katkics produced feature films, Ilona Kolonits remained faithful to her calling as a documentary filmmaker.

Ilona Kolonits was a dedicated documentary film director and international news and war correspondent. She shot over 500 newsreels and directed over one hundred documentary, popular science and sport films, of which 17 received international and six national Hungarian film awards. She filmed armed conflicts in the Middle East and Far East in the 1960s and 1970s, accepting assignments turned down by her colleagues because of the dangers involved and she risked her life in order to bring news to the Hungarian and international public. Ilona Kolonits' films promoted world peace and humanitarian causes. She often portrayed minority groups in her films. She was in particular concerned with the cause of women and children whose lives were distraught by war. One of her most outstanding cinematic achievements is the short film Eroica (1975), which portrays the impact of the Vietnam War on the lives of Vietnamese women and children in a series of images edited to the sounds of Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (Op. 55) by Ludwig van Beethoven (known as the Eroica, Italian for "heroic").

Ilona Kolonits' best known and most disputed film is As It Happened (1957), a documentary film portraying the events of the 1956 Uprising in Hungary. The film was edited from documentary footages which Ilona Kolonits herself shot with a camera on the streets of Budapest as none of the other Hungarian documentarist were prepared to take the risk of working during the armed conflict.[5] Working alone Ilona Kolonits provided authentic documentary footages. [6] The political controversy surrounding this film related to the interpretation of the events through editing overshadowed the considerable on international scale cinematic heritage of Ilona Kolonits' humanist documentary cinema.[7]

Ilona Kolonits' cinematic style was lyrical and poetic. In her films she portrayed the everyday lives of people in Hungary and internationally. Her kind manner and genuine compassion won the hearts of people and allowed her to portray their culture, traditions, customs, moments of joy and grief. She focused on the lives of ordinary people, ethnic and minority communities, women and children[1] In 1955 she started a several decades-long series of documentary films entitled Birthday which followed the lives of a group of women throughout their annual school reunions, this way presenting a very personal, feminine view of a generation. Ilona Kolonits' documentary film 'Thank You For The Clay' (Köszöntöm az agyagot) (1976) is a homage to the art and skill of the renewed Hungarian sculptor, Margit Kovacs.[8] In her 1988 film You Like Horses, Don't You? Ilona Kolonits addressed issues related to animal rights. Her film Budapest is a lyrical homage to the city where she was born and which she loved. The films of Ilona Kolonits are filed at the Hungarian National Digital Film Archives and Film Institute.[7]

Selected awards[edit]

Selected filmography[edit]

  • You Do Love Horses, Don't You? (A lovakat szeretik, ugye?), 1988 - Award of Montecatini, Special Prize of the Festival Of Tourism, Special Prize at the Hungarian Sport Film Festival, Budapest
  • The Fourth Meeting (A negyedik talákozás), 1985
  • The City Of The Golden Budda (Az arany Buddha városa), 1985
  • The Fourth Meeting (Negyedik találkozás), 1985
  • The Daughters of Laos (Laosz lányai), 1984
  • Goose Empire (Libabirodalom), 1983
  • A Nuclear Power Station (Atomeromu), 1983
  • Painting With Background (Festmény háttérrel), 1983
  • House of Lace ( A csipkeház), 1982
  • Greeting Life (Eletköszöntö), 1982
  • Thank You, We Are Well… (Koszonjuk, jol vagyunk…), 1981
  • The Survivals (A tulélök), 1980
  • Nursery Olympics (Óvis Olympia), 1979 - Award of the International Youth Committee, 1980, Award of the International Olympic Committee 1980, Award of the Russian Olympic Committee, 1980, Silver Javelin Prize, 1980, Budapest, Hungary
  • The Continuation of A Film (Egy film folytatása), 1978
  • In Several Voices (Több szolamban), 1977
  • Good Morning Siberia! (Jo reggent Sziberia!) - The Prize of the City of Leipzig, Germany
  • Thank You For The Clay (Köszönöm az anyagot), 1976
  • Let Them Have Reverence (Adassék neki tisztelet), 1976
  • White Acacia (Fehér akác), 1976
  • Meeting In Peace (Talakozás békében), 1975
  • Eroica, 1975 - Golden Prize of the Moscow Film Festival 1975, Distinction at the Tampere Film festival, Finnland 1976
  • Together Again (Ismet egyutt), 1974
  • Sport, Rhythm, Music (Sport, ritmus, zene), 1974
  • A Week On A Mountain (Egy hét egy hegyen), 1973
  • Those Who Are Waited For (Akiket varnak), 1973
  • Sparkles (Csillagszorok), 1973
  • My World (Az en vilagom), 1973
  • Red Gold (Piros Arany), 1973
  • Two Towns, (Két város), 1972
  • With Abandon, (Onfeledten), 1972
  • Two Cities, One Day (Ket varos, egy nap), 1972
  • Self-portrait (Onarckep), 1971
  • On The Conveyer-belt of History (A tortenelem futoszallagan), 1970
  • Variations On a Theme (Valtozatok egy temara), 1970
  • The Train (A Vonat), 1970
  • 5 x 1 (5x1), 1969 - Winner of OTSH Film Art Festival, Silver Javelin Prize, 1970, Budapest, Hungary
  • …And There Will Be A Millions Of Us (Es million leszunk) 1968
  • Madonnas (Madonnak) 1968
  • To My Soldier Son (Katonafiamnak) 1968 - 1st prize of the Veszprem Army Film Festival, Hungary
  • Ode (Oda) 1967
  • This Is As Well Budapest (Ez is Budapest) 1967
  • Red Signs On The Path of War (Vörös jelek a hadak utján) 1966 - Russian Historical State Award
  • Chanson (Sanzon) 1966
  • Five Times a Week (Hetenkent ötször) 1965 - 1st Prize of Silver Javelin OTSH Film Festival, Budapest, 1965 ,1st Prize of the Italian Film Production Companies, Cortina d'Ampezzo, 1966, CIDALC Award, Grenoble, 1968
  • Seasons, Masters, Artworks (Evszakok, mesterek, muvek) 1964
  • Thoughts About A Street's Name (Gondolatok egy utca névhez) 1964
  • The Last Stop (Végállomas) 1964
  • The 'Puszta' in Winter (A Puszta télen) 1963
  • Minutes Observed (Ellesett percek) 1962 - Winner of the 3rd Hungarian Short Film Biennale, Budapest
  • Festival In Helsinki (Fesztival Helszinkiben) 1962
  • Off To Baghdad (Irány Bagdad), 1961
  • Two Harvests in Markaz (Két szuret Markazon) 1961
  • In the Footsteps Of Childhood (Gyermekévek nyomában) 1961
  • April Greetings (Áprilisi köszöntö),1960
  • History Lesson For Boys (Törtenelmi lecke fiuknak), 1960
  • Bridges, Embankments, People, (Hidak, partok emberek)1960
  • The Last Curtain (Az utolso felvonás), 1959
  • We Will Meet In Vienna (Bécsben találkozunk), 1959
  • May I? (Szabad?), 1958
  • Nowhere Else Apart From Here (A nagyvilágon e kivul), 1957
  • Talking Fruits (Beszélö gyümölcsök), 1957
  • Ez It Happened (Így törtent), 1957
  • Change of Programme (Müsorváltozás), 1957
  • Six Boys, Six Buses (Hat fiu, hat busz), 1956
  • On The Embankment Of The Sajo River (Sajoparti Történet), 1955
  • Birthday (Születésnap), 1955
  • A Journey In Szabolcs (Utazás Szabolcsban), 1955
  • Budapest Industrial Expo (Budapesti Helyipari Vásár), 1955
  • In the Land of 'Matyo', 1953
  • Budapest, 1953
  • Before the Decision (Választas elött…) 1953
  • Matyasföld, (Matyásföld), 1953
  • They Need Peace (Nekik béke kell), 1952 - Winner of the 1954 Children's Film Festival, Paris, France
  • Flowering Life Replacing The Ruins (Romok helyen viragzo elet) 1949[13]


  1. ^ a b c d Csőke József, 'Kolonits Ilona (1922–2002)', Krónika, Filmvilág folyóirat 2002/09 03. old.
  2. ^ a b Yad Vashem
  3. ^ Margit Kolonits, 'My Memoirs' ('Visszaemlékezéseim') (10 August 1976, Budapest), manuscript, in private collection
  4. ^ hu:A Farkasréti temető nevezetes halottainak listája#K[better source needed]
  5. ^ Elena Kaplinskaya 'The Cinema of Moscow', Profizdat 1991 pp. 124-140
  6. ^ Elena Kaplinskaya 'Illuzion', Profizdat 1991 pp. 124-140
  7. ^ a b Lóránt,Stőhr, 'Nothing is Set in Stone - Conversation with Éva Kármentő' (Semmi sincs kőbe vésve - Beszélgetés Kármentő Évával)
  8. ^ Ilona Kolonits 'Thank You For The Clay' (Köszöntöm az agyagot) (1976) (fragment)
  9. ^ hu:Magyarország Kiváló Művésze díj#1980[better source needed]
  10. ^ hu:Magyarország Érdemes Művésze díj#1973[better source needed]
  11. ^ hu:Balázs Béla-díj#1963[better source needed]
  12. ^ hu:SZOT-díj#1965[better source needed]
  13. ^ The British Film Institute, Archives,


  • Kolonits, Margit, 'My Memoirs' ('Visszaemlékezéseim' ) (10 August 1976, Budapest)
  • Csőke, József, 'Kolonits Ilona (1922–2002)', Krónika, Filmvilág folyóirat 3 September 2002 old.
  • Elena Kaplinskaya 'Illuzion', Profizdat 1991
  • Lóránt,Stőhr, 'Nothing is Set in Stone - Conversation with Éva Kármentő' (Semmi sincs kőbe vésve - Beszélgetés Kármentő Évával)