GEORGE PAUL CSICSERY, a writer and independent filmmaker since 1968, is best known for his films on mathematics-related subjects. He was born in Germany in 1948 and immigrated to the United States in 1951. He has directed 26 films—dramatic shorts, performance films and documentaries.
Csicsery’s two most recent works are both on mathematical themes. Julia Robinson and Hilbert’s Tenth Problem, a one-hour biographical documentary about an American mathematician and her part in solving one of the 20th century’s most famous mathematics problems, will premiere in January 2008. The project is partially supported by the Clay Mathematics Institute and by Margaret & Will Hearst. Hard Problems, also premiering in January 2008, is a feature documentary produced for the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), and is about the team of American high school students who participated in the 2006 International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Recent films include The Right Spin (2005), about astronaut Michael Foale and his part in saving the Mir space station in 1997, made for Math Awareness Month, and The Thursday Club (2005) an hour-long doc about retired Oakland policemen who were involved in suppressing the antiwar demonstrations of the 1960s. Hungry for Monsters (2003), a feature documentary about a Pennsylvania case of false accusation of incest and child molest was shown at the Bermuda International Film Festival and in the Human Rights section of the 57th Locarno International Film Festival in 2004, and was broadcast by Teacher’s TV in the UK in 2006. In 2003 he completed, Invitation to Discover, for the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI), and porridge pulleys and Pi, a half-hour biographical film on mathematicians Hendrik Lenstra and Vaughan Jones, which premiered at the Teléscience Festival in Montréal, Canada in November 2003, and at the Exploratorium in March 2004. Troop 214 (1997), about exiled Hungarian Scouts in the United States and their return to Hungary, and Communist Pioneers, was co-produced with Duna-TV in Budapest, Hungary, and broadcast in November 2000. N is a Number: A Portrait of Paul Erdös (1993), about an eccentric wandering mathematician, was broadcast on Duna-TV, Hungary (1995), SBS-Australia (1996), the Sundance Channel-USA (1996-98), NHK-Japan (1997), and Noorder Licht, VPRO-Netherlands, January 2001, and again on Zomergasten on VPRO in 2007. The film is currently playing on PBS stations by arrangement with American Public Television, (2002-2009), and Discovery Canada (2003-2004). Csicsery produced, directed and edited Where the Heart Roams (1987), a feature documentary about romance writers and their fans, broadcast on the POV series on PBS (1991) and SBS-Australia. Television: The Enchanted Mirror (1981) received prizes at the Marin, Mill Valley, Palo Alto and USA film festivals. Half-hour 16mm films include Hookers (1975), about prostitutes organizing a union in San Francisco; Let's Get It Over With! (1970), about American student reactions to the U.S. invasion of Cambodia; and People of the Current (1971), about the Muslim Tausug people of Luuk township on Jolo island in the Philippines. Csicsery worked on films by Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven), and Barbet Schroeder (Koko).
Another project scheduled for completion in 2008 is Songs Along A Stony Road, a one-hour documentary about musicians discovered by Transylvanian ethnomusicologist Zoltán Kallós. It was filmed in Transylvania during 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2006, and is being edited in the Netherlands by co-producer Chris Teerink. The project has received support from ArtsLink CEC, and from National Geographic’s All Roads Film initiative.
George Csicsery is the author and co-author of four feature-length screenplays: Ida (1989), Meeting With Darkness (1992), East of Evil (1995), and Alderman’s Story (2004), set in King Philip's War in New England in 1675. Csicsery's articles, reviews and interviews have appeared in Salon.com, Amerasia Journal, Asia Times, Heterodoxy, Film Quarterly, California Magazine, Savvy, the San Jose Mercury-News, the San Francisco Chronicle, the East Bay Express, the Oakland Tribune, The Japan Times, The Forward, Lufthansa Bordbuch, Release Print, and many other publications. His articles and interviews have been reprinted in several anthologies, including Conversations with Ishmael Reed, University of Mississippi Press (1995); Without Force or Lies, edited by William Brinton, Mercury House (1990); Burden of Dreams by Les Blank & James Bogan, North Atlantic Books (1984). He has a BA in Comparative Religions from UC Berkeley (1969), and an MFA in Film Production from San Francisco State University (1972).
He has taught film editing at Film Arts Foundation in San Francisco (1982-1997), and general cinema courses to undergraduates at San Francisco State University (1996) and at UC Davis (1998). He lives in Oakland, California. More information about George Csicsery’s films can be found at www.zalafilms.com
When Joe Gallian, President of the Mathematical Association of America first approached me about this project, he mentioned the film “Spellbound,” the highly successful 2002 documentary about the national spelling bee competitions. “Why can’t there be something like ‘Spellbound’ about the USAMO and IMO process?” he asked.
What a good idea, I thought. But I soon realized that making a film about mathematics competitions is very different from filming a spelling bee where all the action and excitement takes place in full view of the audience as students spell out difficult words either correctly or incorrectly. That’s a natural and easy thing to film. All of the action during a mathematics test goes on inside your head. The difference for film could not be greater. So how was I going to find a way to show the best and brightest competitors in the United States making their way through the USAMO, the Team Selection Test, training at the MOSP in Lincoln, and finally, at the International Mathematical Olympiad competition itself in Slovenia?
That was the challenge. After 18 months, 27 days of shooting, 100 hours of HDV video, and months of editing, the film “Hard Problems” is the answer to those hard questions.
It is a huge honor and a very humbling experience to work with the very brightest young minds in the United States. For one thing, when I asked these students a question, I often waited while the wheels turned and they weighed the exact words and ideas that would go into the answer. For a documentary filmmaker there can be no more satisfying assignment than trying to communicate a sense of the quality of the students who participated in this film, and the dedication of the adults who insure that the USAMO and IMO experiences aspire to the highest standards. My hope is that our finished film conveys this to general audiences. I also hope that “Hard Problems” will inspire others to see mathematics as those in the film already do—the most challenging and the most rewarding of pursuits.
I am grateful to everyone who participated and helped in the production of this film—the students, parents, teachers, everyone at MAA, and the American Math Competitions, and the wonderful people in Slovenia. And of course, the film owes everything to the production and post-production crews who were with me every step of the way.
— George Csicsery
George Paul Csicsery
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