Film can be very important for a nation – for finding an identity, and keeping it, and also for telling other people about our country. Hungarian cinema is like Hungary itself: it's gone through a lot, sometimes it's found itself in difficulties, but it has kept its rich variety and can still produce beautiful things.
Many say the golden age of Hungarian cinema was in the 1950s and 60s, when the dictatorship was at its most brutal. It is amazing how Hungarian directors of that time could find the means and ways to stand up against the regime through the human stories in their films. I particularly love Hungarian historical movies, as, during socialism, film-makers turned to the past. I especially like the 1968 film Stars of Eger – based on Géza Gárdonyi's Eclipse of the Crescent Moon – which depicts Hungarian life under Turkish occupation and the great battle between Turks and Hungarians, where all the woman famously joined in, pouring boiling water and hot wax over the soldiers crawling up into the castle. It just brings my childhood back and makes me feel more connected to my roots, our heritage.
As patron of Check the Gate, London's festival of Hungarian film, I can also recommend the film Puskas Hungary, about the great Hungarian footballer. It is no surprise that the golden era of Hungarian film was the golden era of Hungarian football, too. Art and sport are both fantastic ways to achieve freedom, success and self-fulfilment under any circumstances. That's why I am happy to be the festival's patron, especially as the theme this year is emigration, a subject close to my heart since I left Hungary to come to the UK as a footballer six years ago.
Comedy is also essential to Hungarians; we need our sense of humour to deal with difficult situations. That's why Hungarian comedy is ironic. A great example is from Péter Bacsó's The Witness, which is a great satire about communism. I always have to laugh when the communist leader is presented with the new Hungarian orange, which has been grown to prove that the country is capable of producing anything that is available in the west. Even though it is quite blatantly a sad little lemon, he bites into it as his comrade explains that it is indeed an orange – "a bit more yellow, a bit more sourer, but it is ours".
My favourite genre is probably animation – if you read this in time, please go to see Mattie the Goose-boy, which is screening this morning at Riverside Studios in west London. The story is elemental to every Hungarian child, and I'm sure British kids would enjoy it. It's been one of my favourites since childhood, because it has a very positive message about taking your own destiny in your hands.
I no longer have the time to go the cinema as much as I'd like, but there are ways for footballers to catch up with films. This season, for instance, the volcanic ash cloud prevented the Fulham team flying to Germany to play Hamburg in the Europa League semi-final, so we had to travel by coach, which gave me the chance to catch up on Ben-Hur. It turns out that even Ben-Hur doesn't last as long as the journey by coach from London to Hamburg.
Zoltan Gera is a Hungarian international footballer who plays for Fulham. He is patron of the Hungarian film festival Check the Gate, which runs at the Riverside Studios in London until Monday.