Edited by Anna Popper

Eszter Polyák

Eszter Polyák is a talented Hungarian fashion and costume artist, and she was the costume designer for the short film “swapID,” which competed in the 48 Hours Film Project in 2023. The short film won Best Movie in Eindhoven and also won the Best Costume Design award.

On the international platform in Lisbon, the movie was nominated for Best Costume Design and made it into the top 10 movies that were later screened at the 77th Cannes Film Festival in 2024. Being part of the Cannes Film Festival is an extraordinary achievement, a dream cherished by many.

In lieu of superficiality, Eszter Polyák casts the enchantment of obscurity upon the runway. Her collections spring forth from the darkness that most are reluctant to confront, drawing inspiration from the cultural fringes. As a former costume designer for the Budapest Capital Circus, resourcefulness is integral to her style.

Eszter was born into a family with deep artistic roots. Her father, initially a sculptor, embarked on a journey that led him to Australia and Japan, where he delved into martial arts before returning to Hungary to lay the foundations of karate in the country and establish its inaugural stunt team. He also earned recognition as a bodyguard, attaining a place among the world’s top ten in the 90s. His clientele included luminaries such as Pope John Paul II, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and La Toya Jackson. Eszter’s mother was also a pupil of her father, engaging in both stunt work and karate.

Sir Dr. Joseph Polyák with La Toya Jackson
Peter Polyák with his painting

During her high school years, Eszter contemplated a future as a lawyer or doctor, influenced by her sister’s legal studies and her mother’s work in a hospital. However, in 2012, a transformative summer spent with her brother, Peter Polyák, an artist and painter in Key West, Florida, awakened her passion for fashion design.

Under the tutelage of “Sushi,” a renowned Drag Queen known for crafting exquisite costumes, and through active participation in New York Fashion Week’s backstage scene, Eszter’s commitment to the world of fashion solidified.

Before her sojourn to the United States, Eszter’s creativity found expression in altering her own clothes to infuse them with uniqueness. However, after her American experience, while sitting in a classroom in Hungary, she found herself sketching daring dress designs in her notebook, eschewing her immediate surroundings. This marked the inception of her debut collection, “Frst Cllctn” inspired by her international adventures, dreams, and aspirations.

“Frst Cllctn” (Photo: Anita Frei)

Those who saw her creations, including teachers, professors, and established designers, either passionately embraced or fervently rejected them, underscoring her capacity to evoke powerful emotions – precisely her intention. Not only did she craft her thesis around the theme of aliens, but her diploma collection revolved around this enigmatic subject. Images from the collection, when shared with Leslie Barany, H.R. Giger’s manager, drew this response: “Congratulations, Eszter Polyak. H.R. Giger continues to inspire the next generation.”

All of us are Aliens at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Show SS18 (Photo: Dívány)

Upon completing her university studies in 2018, she pursued her ambition to become the costume designer for the Budapest Capital Circus, the sole stone circus in Central Europe. After a year, her responsibilities expanded to encompass not only costumes, but also set design and props.

Circus 50 – at the Capital Circus of Budapest (Photo: Adám Urbán)

Simultaneously, she embarked on a career in the film industry, working closely with the Oscar-nominated costume designer Györgyi Szakács and the renowned Hungarian costume designer Krisztina Vavrinecz. Her path also brought her alongside Oscar-winning costume designer Michael O’Connor in the movie “Lee”, where she served as Kate Winslet’s dresser. In 2022, when Disney undertook the production of a new Alien movie “Romulus”, Eszter seized the opportunity to work with renowned costume designer Carlos Rosario as a Costume Workshop Coordinator. She also took on the role of costume coordinator alongside Oscar-nominated costume designer Bina Daigeler for an upcoming film project.

Eszter boasts movie credits as both a costume and production designer. Additionally, she has nurtured her own fashion brand for over a decade. In 2022, she had a prestigious fashion exhibition titled “/NOT2B – The Last Fashion Show”.

“/NOT2B” exhibition at Turbina (Photo: András Vancsay)

The /NOT2B collection pushes the boundaries of “fashion design” with its unique models creating the phenomenon of a static and dynamic fashion show/exhibition. It explores themes of shedding identity and confronting the dread of the unknown after death. The short film “/NOT2B” won the Best Art Film award at the 2022 Experimental Festival.

“/NOT2B – The Last Fashion Show” (Photo: László Regőczy)

48 Hour Film Project – “swapID” – by Beyond Borders

The 48 Hour Film Project is the world’s largest filmmaking competition, bringing together a vast community of thousands of creative individuals. This unique event challenges participants to create a short film in a single weekend, with the excitement of seeing their work screened in local theatres.

Since its inception in 2001, the project has expanded to over 100 cities globally, from the streets of Paris to the hills of Cape Town and the vibrant apartments of New York.

It offers filmmakers of all skill levels a fantastic opportunity to enhance their portfolios, expand their networks and ignite their passion for filmmaking.

Werk picture from the short film “swapID” (Photo: Anna Vera Lengyel)

A standout feature of the 48 Hour Film Project is its long-standing partnership with the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner, where a selection of the best films is showcased annually.

Eszter worked on two other 48HFP projects with the same team, called Beyond Budapest. In 2019, the project was called “Birds on the Catwalk”, and in 2021 “TAT TVAM ASI”. In 2023, the Hungarian team collaborated with a Dutch team. The collaborative group name was Beyond Borders, and they first competed in Eindhoven.

The Beyond Borders team’s goal was to create a film shot in two countries simultaneously, all within the stringent 48-hour timeframe. This international co-production, led by director Andie Szatmári and Gido Krom, marked a distinctive achievement. What set this short film apart was its simultaneous production in Hungary and the Netherlands, with co-director Gido Krom overseeing the Dutch team. Notably, during the competition, Andie and Hungarian lead actress, Sára Mosolygó (portraying Szendrey Júlia in “Most vagy soha!”) travelled to the Netherlands to shoot a joint scene with the Dutch lead actress Sophie Bouquet.

Werk picture from the short film “swapID” with Sára Mosolygó (Photo: Anna Vera Lengyel)

The Hungarian-Dutch team created swapID, a poignant tale exploring the consequences of modern technology on human relationships. The film depicts two women attempting to exchange bodies through a mobile app, unaware of each other’s true intentions. The plot thickens when one of them discovers her husband’s reservations about the impending body swap, unravelling a series of moral dilemmas and ethical considerations related to cutting-edge technology.

The screenplay was crafted via video chat on Friday. The Hungarian team shot scenes at the Kelenföld Power Plant on Saturday, while the Dutch team filmed in Rotterdam’s prestigious district. The joint scene took place at the NDSM Wharf in Amsterdam, known for its street art.

Werk picture from the short film “swapID” with Dániel Baki (Photo: Anna Vera Lengyel)

In the collaborative tapestry, Eszter Polyák, Barb Kristóf and Barbara Gosztony emerge as the creative forces behind the visual allure of the cinematic endeavours. Serving as the ingenious costume designer, Eszter Polyák showed her consistent flair for infusing life into characters through vibrant and imaginative creations. Remarkably, she undertook the intricate task of crafting costumes for both the Hungarian and Dutch sides of the international collaboration. Her ability to translate narrative nuances into visually captivating costumes was a cornerstone of the success, and her well-deserved recognition at this edition of the 48 Hour Film Project underscores her invaluable contribution. She started this 48HFP with an amazing new costume team: Emese Kocsis, Karolina Szűcs, Eszter Karácsonyi.

Werk picture from the short film “swapID” with Andrea Waskovics (Photo: Anna Vera Lengyel)

Beyond Borders not only met the challenges, but surpassed them, securing notable awards and nominations for their outstanding work. Their accolades include:

Eszter Polyák with the Best Costume Design Award

Eindhoven Awards:

  • Best Film (Entire Team)
  • Best Directing (Andi Szatmári and Gido Krom)
  • Best Cinematography (Zoltán Farkas and Lidewei Egbers)
  • Best Costume Design (Eszter Polyák)
  • Best Art Direction (Csenge Juhos-Kiss, Réka Fülöpp and Robyn Bakker)
  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Barbara Kristóf, Barbara Gosztony and Patrycja Smoronska)

Eindhoven Nominations:

  • Best Screenplay (Zhang-Ge Buzády, Ernő Faisztl, and Franciska Márton)
  • Best Original Music Score (Milán Hodován)
  • Best Ensemble Cast: Acknowledgment of the collective talent and chemistry of the cast
  • Best Visual Effects (Carla Morales)

Following these nominations and awards, Beyond Borders went to the Filmapalooza festival in Lisbon. Filmapalooza selected the top ten films shot in 48 hours from the participating cities, including SwapID and therefore it was screened at the Short Film Corner of the Cannes Film Festival on 22 May.

Lisbon Awards:

  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Best Original Music Score
  • Best Ensemble Cast

Lisbon Nominations: Best Film, Best Cinematography, Best Set Design, Best Costume

Eszter Polyák (costume designer), Ernő Faisztl (writer), Andrea Szatmári (director)
Eszter Polyák at the red carpet in Cannes

Founded in 1946, the Cannes Film Festival is one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. Held annually in Cannes, France, it showcases top international cinema and attracts renowned filmmakers, actors and industry professionals. The festival’s main event is the Competition, where films compete for the prestigious Palme d’Or. It also includes Un Certain Regard, Out of Competition, and Short Films sections.

Cannes is a hub for networking and business, with the Marché du Film being a key film market. The red carpet events are famous for their glamour, featuring celebrities in high fashion. The festival supports new talent through initiatives like the Cinéfondation and Cannes Short Film Corner.

The initial allure of the competition for Beyond Borders was the prospect of reaching the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.