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An environmental feature documentary about Ukraine’s efforts to stop its transnational plastic pollution of rivers

How a single man in Transcarpathia, Ukraine started to clean up the Tisza - one of Europe’s most polluted rivers - and how he inspired thousands of others to join in? ‘River Saver Truck’, the latest documentary film produced by the (Termé Society gives the answers. The one hour documentary is hosted and features Béla Francz whose actions and attitude lead us back to an appreciation and respect for nature. Screened in Budapest on a Danube houseboat and available online since, the film is subtitled in all Tisza languages (Ukrainian, Slovakian, Romanian, Serbian, Hungarian) and English.


BACKGROUND: In Ukraine, Transcarpathia, organized waste management is at an early stage, and in many regions it does not even exist. The population is helpless, they have nowhere to put their household waste. This is how the mountain rivers of Transcarpathia become a dumping ground, and why so much waste is drifting down on the Tisza river into the EU. The (Termé Society, brainparent of the Plastic Cup Initiative, has been working for a cleaner Tisza for more than 10 years. To tackle the plastic pollution, Plastic Cup has built an extensive network of international cooperations. As a result, nowadays Hungarians, Ukrainians, civilians and entrepreneurs are trying to deal with the waste management problem together. They do so in a region where this issue has been unresolved for decades. The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine overshadows these efforts but even greater the need is for inspiring stories like this.

paripaFighting the tide of plastic together: the Soviet made UAZ and his driver, Béla Francz.

The film's main character, Béla Francz, has taken up the fight against the flood of plastic on rivers in upstream Yasinya (Kőrösmező), Transcarpathia. He set up public waste bins, selective containers, drove his beat-up UAZ truck to doorsteps, went out to shops and traders, and started to take away waste from everywhere. He rented an abandoned slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Yasinya (Kőrösmező), where he started sorting the waste and sold the glass, plastic and metal separately. The provisioned business success however, failed to come. The income from selling selective waste was just enough to buy fuel. He was about to give up when a ray of hope appeared.

On February 1, 2020, Plastic Cup volunteers held a film screening at the American Corner in Uzhgorod, Ukraine, on the occasion of the Tisza Memorial Day (remembering the catastrophic great cyanide flood of 2000). The screening turned into a Facebook event, the event into a correspondence, and the correspondence into a personal meeting. The whole conversation between Béla and our ‘Plastic Prof’ Gergely Hankó lasted about only about 10 minutes. But this conversation was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

"We were deeply touched by his dedication and the Spartan conditions amongst which Béla worked. His truck in particular was in very bad condition. We felt that a better vehicle is what he needs the most."  - says Attila Attila Dávid Molnár, writer and director of the documentary film.

“We decided to help. Still under the impression of our first encounter, we made a short fundraising video. It was shared on the Adjukö website (a Hungarian crowdsourcing platform like Kickstarter), where donors raised the money necessary to buy a used truck. They did so in the matter of a few short days exceeding the required amount by 3 times.  Once the 10000 USD was raised, Béla was able to buy the IVECO named ‘River Saver Truck’, which he has been using to collect and transport waste every day ever since” - added Emese Silimon, the coordinator of the campaign Adjukö, and the editor of the film.

A real success story: the IVECO bought from donations put Béla and his business on a completely different level.

Although many people tried to discourage him, Béla never gave up. Now it is safe to say that he has made a real difference in Transcarpathia. The filmmakers have tried to bring this story, which spans years - and borders - to the screen in an exciting way.

"We've faced many difficulties in making nature films, but this film exceeded the worst expectations. We had the money for the truck, but we didn't have the resources for the film. So we started working on our own, with volunteer camerapeople” - said Zsolt Tamás, producer of the film. - ”Finally we received support from the Office Of The Government Commissioner For Active Hungary to swing into production, just in time when the borders of Ukraine had been closed due to the COVID epidemic. As we were planning a four-season film, we had no time to waste and had to start shooting remotely, for which we sought help in Transcarpathia." 



Fortunately, the team found the right specialists. Mihály Gazdag and Benjámin Bíró from Beregovo took on the difficult task, although they had never worked for a director who was giving instructions via Messenger and approved the day's shoot in a Zoom call. As soon as the virus situation eased, the crew of Society (Termé joined the local camera crew and continued filming together. Lot of specialists helped their work, among them was waste manager expert Gergely Hankó:

"We've been cleaning up the Tisza for a decade, and we've done a lot of work to finally be able to work in the source area. River pollution is a complex problem, and we are using scientific methods” - told Gergely Hankó, PlasticCup project leader and one of the supporting actors in the film.  “In Transcarpathia, from Uzhgorod to Beregovo to Yasinya, we have found several collaborating partners who are passionate about making a difference. It's a fantastic feeling to contribute to the successes out there, to pass on our knowledge, to help with materials, equipment and advice. We can finally focus our efforts on where the river plastic pollution and the Tisza is coming from."

During post-production, it became clear that the film would be about much more than just a truck bought thanks to a fundraising campaign. From the raw footage, it was clear that it had the potential to not only shock, to ask questions, but also to provide answers and give much needed inspiration.

"In the early eighties, my father bought two car wrecks, and built a usable Zsiguli (five seater Soviet made car) from them. This film takes me back to those days”- said Attila Dávid Molnár, director of the film.  “Every time I've been to Ukraine, there's always this ‘nevergiveup’ attitude in the air. Of course, the difficult economic situation is part of the reason why the Ukrainians are very ingenious, persistent and reuse what they can. That's why river pollution is already bothering more and more people there." 


The film’s main character, Béla Francz comes from a Hungarian family - a minority in Ukraine’s Transcarpathia. Speaking both Hungarian and Ukrainian as his mother language, he forms a living bridge between nationalities. Thanks to this bigger truck now he can take care of transport, which took most of his profits beforehand.

"I only spoke Hungarian with my grandparents. I listened to bed stories in Hungarian. But then I could not enter kindergarten because I didn't speak Ukrainian. From then on, they only spoke Ukrainian to me at home” - added Béla Francz, the main character of the film. “Later on I was admitted to kindergarten, but the price I had to pay was that when I went on holiday to Hungary with my father for the first time at the age of ten, I could hardly speak Hungarian. And I can honestly say that I am still afraid that I don't speak well enough. I no longer use Hungarian in Yasinya. But I hope that David (the director of the film) will be right and that everyone will understand my story. If not every word, at least the point of it." 

Another fundraising campaign to make the film accessible for hearing and visually impaired people

The film was a huge inspiration when the fundraiser community raised the funds for the truck in just a few days. Building on the success of the campaign two years ago, the PlasticCup community and the filmmakers have now taken another step forward. They want to make the new documentary accessible as soon as possible and take the first step towards ensuring that the works produced in the nature film industry can be enjoyed by people who are visually and hearing impaired. 

The River Saver Truck  52 minutes documentary can be watched here:

Find out more about the film, milestones and behind-the-scenes secrets on the film's website:

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