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Andrew G. Vajna (1 August 1944 – 20 January 2019)

For someone who became internationally famous through making movies, it’s perhaps something of a puzzle as to why Andrew G. Vajna’s own childhood never became the subject of a movie. At the age of twelve and supported by the Red Cross, Vajna travelled from his home in Budapest to Canada, He made the trip alone, and arrived with no friends to meet him, and unable to speak a word of English. Despite this, Vajna flourished, and later on he was studying cinematography at the University of California, before he joined the university’s Educational Motion Picture Department. A brief stint running his own photo studio was curtailed by a ski accident, and from there Vajna became a hairdresser. Eventually he teamed with an old friend, Gábor Koltai, and they founded a successful high quality wig company. Vajna moved to Hong Kong and ran his own wig company there before selling it in 1973 for a handsome profit.

Following a brief period as a cinema owner and distributor in the Far East, Vajna met Mario Kassar at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, and together the pair formed distribution company, Carolco. In less than three years, Carolco had become one of the top three foreign sales organisations worldwide, with movies such as Futureworld (1976), The Eagle Has Landed (1977), and Winter Kills (1979) being distributed under the Carolco banner. But it wasn’t until 1982, when Vajna and Kassar took a risk in acquiring the rights to David Morrell’s novel, First Blood, that Carolco became a production company as well as a distributor. First Blood‘s success prompted Vajna and Kassar to expand their empire, and further Rambo sequels, along with a wide range of other projects, saw the company continue to build on its successes. But differences between the two men saw Vajna sell his stake in Carolco, and in 1989, he formed Cinergi Productions, Inc. Vajna continued to make successful movies until the mid-90’s when a string of box office flops caused Cinergi to fold.

Despite the high level of success he experienced as a producer/distributor, Vajna never forgot his Hungarian roots, and he did a lot to support the Hungarian movie industry, from arranging for productions such as Evita (1996) to be shot there, to founding DIGIC Pictures, an animation studio. In 2011 he took his support a step further by creating the Hungarian National Film Fund, an organisation dedicated to providing financial and practical support to Hungarian movie projects. The most successful recipient of support from the fund was Son of Saul (2015); without the fund’s backing it’s unlikely László Nemes’ movie would have been made. And in recent years, Vajna expanded his influence by venturing into telecommunications. A man who proved successful in almost everything he turned his hand to, Vajna was also a true enthusiast in everything he did. His influence stretched beyond the boundaries of being a distributor or producer, and without him, Hungary’s reputation as a source of artistically and financially successful movies would certainly not be as healthy as it is today.

1 – First Blood (1982)

2 – Angel Heart (1987)

3 – Music Box (1989)

4 – Total Recall (1990)

5 – Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

6 – Tombstone (1993)

7 – Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995)

8 – Nixon (1995)

9 – Evita (1996)

10 – Freedom’s Fury (2006)