Bernadett Tuza-Ritter: A Woman Captured

When Bernadett Tuza-Ritter began her studies at Hungarian Film School she was challenged to write a five minute short following an ordinary person’s life. This short film project soon evolved into an undercover documentary about domestic slavery. Bernadett Tuza-Ritter explained the story behind A WOMAN CAPTURED, at the Cambridge Film Festival this year.

“I met [Eta’s] family through a friend of mine a few years earlier. I didn’t know anything about the background but I could remember [Eta’s housekeeper] Edith’s face because I knew that she was only around 50 but looked about 70. For the brief of a day of a person, I had the visual concept that I only wanted to show one face in my film and this was the reason why I contacted the family. I told them ‘this is only for my school, I’m not going to show any other faces – I only want to shoot for a few days’.

They allowed me to shoot, and during those days of shooting, Eta told me that she is not paying so that is the first time that I knew there is something more going on behind, so I asked for more and more shooting days. They thought during the year and a half of shooting that this was only for my school. I didn’t tell them that the subject of my film has been changed, they thought I was just a stupid young student and they are really clever, so I was always one step ahead. They were really proud of having servants, so shooting was kind of ‘cool’ in the house, but of course after a while they were really interested in money. So they asked me to pay them, and altogether I paid them around €1,000 for the last few months but by that I already knew that Edith wanted to escape. So these were the reasons why they let me shoot.

This was my first film, and I was not looking for success or anything. I just wanted to make something, and from the moment I arrived she was not alone anymore and I realised that. So it was much more important to become a friend to Edith as a human than just a filmmaker, and of course I tried to make a film while I was there, as I felt a huge responsibility to help her and I can’t leave her alone. It was a way to remember that she was a lovely person and she was born to be free, that she should have the courage to make the decision.

“…they broke her teeth and locked her in the house.”

Edith’s background is that she had six children and a husband, but she had work away from the family to get money, and she met another family before Eta’s and they told her ‘you can work for us. You can come by once maybe two times a week and we can pay you’. She ended going every day of the week, and was less and less paid. She wanted to quit but they didn’t let her go, and when she went back to her husband, they took her by physical violence, they broke her teeth and locked her in the house. When the husband wanted to help her, they told him ‘if you go to the police we are going to hurt your children’. So she found herself in captivity, and during that time she was abused she had to go to hospital and she spent two years there.

In the hospital she met Eta, they were in the same room, and Eta said ‘if you are in trouble you can call me’. Edith managed somehow to escape and call Eta, but then the whole manipulation started again because of course this is how it happens. At the beginning they pretend that they want to help you, but then they start to use you. Eta forced her to sign small debts – she didn’t have any debt before Eta. There were three different debts, in Hungary you can get a small amount of money if you sign the paper with your name, which they forced her to do. Eta spent the money and Edith still has the debt on her name so she cannot have an 8-hour job as the state immediately wants back the money. Also, they took her identity card, so the reasons why it’s not so easy to go is that she doesn’t have any papers.

“… in the UK, there are more than 130,000 people living in modern day slavery …”

Of course there was physical violence, and they were looking for her two months before the escape, and she needed to hide somewhere and needed money for that. It was really difficult to organise the escape. And every time that Eta felt she wanted to go, she became always nicer to Edith, so this shows the manipulation again and a psychological prison.

In Hungary there is a big problem as the system does not think with the victim’s mind. The concept of modern slavery is a global issue. But here in the UK, there are more than 130,000 people living in modern day slavery today and this means that domestic slavery, sexual slavery, forced marriage – all type of slavery. The global slavery index collects this research each year.

I was the first one Eta called [when Edith escaped] of course and I told her I didn’t know where she is. After I made the press screening, Eta called me again and of course she was cross as she found out the real topic of the film and she told me she didn’t understand how what she had done was wrong, and she will go to the media and tell everyone that this is a lie. Then she wanted to watch the film, and I was open to that, but then she disappeared so she stopped calling me.

It is really important that people should not blame the victim. And this does usually happen, people blame the victim, and this is a problem as it makes them feel really ashamed to talk about their problems or ask for help because they don’t want to be blamed. Of course this is how I could get her trust. I never would have blamed her, but when she tried to escape, it was very difficult to find help. The system just does not think with the victim’s mind which means she cannot find any help. She doesn’t have a phone; she doesn’t have internet access.

I made a press screening in Hungary in January, and I invited the police, some people from the government, and from the organisation and they didn’t respond to the film after the screening. But a few months later, they started a campaign together and there were posters at tram and bus stations which said: ‘don’t be a victim of domestic violence, forced labour or sexual slavery’. And you can call this number, which is the same number that is in the film. I called the head of the campaign and he told me that now they try to help everyone, actually the organisation made the mistake that they didn’t recognise that she was a victim because there are so many fake calls. Of course the problem is that the police doesn’t want to say that they didn’t help…”