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Tuesday
Jul032018

BULGARIA

It was the embracing of the co-dependent relationship between the production and distribution/exhibition sectors that brought momentum to the early years of the Bulgarian film industry. Silent feature film production began in 1914 with the great Vasil Gendov’s The Bulgarian Is A Gentleman (aka The Bulgarian is Gallant) and led to works such as Kevork Kuyumdjian’s Baronet (1917) and Sons of The Balkans (1918) and Nikolai Larin’s Under the Old Sky (1922). In 1924 the Congress of Bulgarian Cinema Owners Union was formed, followed by the Cinemagoers Society and The Union of Friends of Film Art (a board of intellectuals who were charged with encouraging filmmaking as an art form).

(Picture, above; l-r, Zakhari Bakharov and Tania Ilieva in Zift, 2008)

Pioneers through this early period of production included Boris Grejov (Merry Bulgaria, 1928), Alexander Vazov (in the Realm of Roses, 1928), Petar Stojchev (Land, 1930), Vassil Bakardjiev (At a Dark Crossroads, 1930) and Boris Borozanov (Bulgarian Eagles, 1941; The Wedding, 1943). The support of the upper class and the funding they provided resulted in cinema becoming a major social influence, its practitioners feted as crucial to the country’s development.

The introduction of Communist rule in 1945 led to the ‘Red Cinema’ era, a period during which the means of film production were appropriated to serve the ideologies of the new leadership. Narrative boundaries were dictated, but the Soviet era also resulted in state-of-the-art facilities and a training regime, so crucial did the Russian rulers consider the impact of film. Bulgaria’s national cinema began to reflect stories of displacement from traditional rural life (Dimitar Minkov’s Bulgarian Old Times, 1945; Georgi Bogoyavlenski’s Back to Life, 1947) and adaptations of literary properties (Dako Dakovski’s Under the Yoke, 1953). In 1955, Sergei Vasilyev’s Shipka Heroes (pictured, above), an account of the heroic stand by Bulgarian rebels and Russian soldiers against the might  of the Ottoman empire in 1877, won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival; in 1956, Boyan Danovski’s Item One earned a Golden Palm nomination on the Croisette; in 1958, Vladimir Yanchev directed star Apostol Karamitev in the comedy Favourite No. 13, which would become a blockbuster upon release and remains one of the country’s most beloved films to this day.



This was also the boom period of the national cinema’s animation sector, peopled by visionary filmmakers such as Vassil Bakardjiev, who began crafting animated advertising shorts as far back as the 1920s. Early innovator Dimiter Todorov Jarava engineered an early version of what would become known as the ‘nicolodeon’ machine in the mid 30s; in 1945, the shorts ‘Sick’ and ‘The Little Thief’ were produced. The formation of the government-funded Animation Film Production Department in 1948 led to ambitious feature-length projects, notably Dimo Lingorski’s The Fearful Bomb (1951) and Master Manol (1952); Ognian Danailov’s Event in the Kindergarten (1952); puppeteer Stefan Topaldjikov’s Orders of the Pike (1953) and Invisible Mirko (1958); and the remarkable works of ‘The Father of Bulgarian Animation’, Todor Dinov, including Marko the Hero (1955), Tale of The Pine Twig (1960), Duet (1961; co-directed with Donyo Donev) and The Daisy (1965). By the 1970s, Bulgarian animation was known around the world, thanks in part to Donev’s beloved series ‘The Three Fools’ (featured, above) and the emergence of talents such as Anri Kulev, Slav Bakalov and Nikolaj Todorov.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s live-action sector continued to grow, maintaining a steady production line of works that resonated with domestic and increasingly international festival audiences. Two decades of Bulgarian cinema would be defined by such works as Stefan Surchadzhiev’s populist comedy Sly Peter (1960); Petar B. Vasilev’s provocative social satire Jack of All Trades (1962); Zako Heskija’s Cannes-nominated Torrid Moon (1966); Mende Brown’s US/Bulgarian co-production, The Clown and The Kids (1967); Dimitar Petrov’s children’s film Porcupines Are Born Without Bristles (1971); Metodi Antonov’s acclaimed masterpiece The Goat Horn (1972; featured, below); The Boy Turns Man (1972), Lyudmil Kirkov adored coming-of-age tale; and, the films of Christo Christov, including his heartfelt parable The Last Summer (1974), surrealist romance The Barrier (1979; pictured, above) and Berlinale competition title, The Truck (1980).



As the grip of Communism began to loosen in the 1980s, Bulgarian cinema began to slyly embrace even more challenging thematic material. This was the decade of Nikola Rudarov’s thriller The Racket (1982); Eduard Zahariev’s Elegy (1982) and My Darling My Darling (1986); Veselin Branev’s drama Central Hotel (1983); Plamen Maslarov’s The Judge (1986); Ludmil Staikov’s historical epic Time of Violence (1988); and, Ivan Nitchev’s Aleksandra (1989).

If the fall of Communism in 1990 was socially and politically liberating, it left the development of the film sector in the hands of private investment – and it proved disastrous. Filmmakers who did get films made focussed on scathing indictments of the old regime and very few, regardless of quality, were seen internationally. Nikolai Volev’s teen-rebel drama Margarit & Margarita (1990; pictured, right), Docho Bodzhakov’s The Well (1991) and Evgeni Mihailov’s The Canary Season (1993) were the only films to be submitted for Foreign Film Oscar consideration in that decade. Independent sector works began to emerge, such as Sergei Komitski’s Bullets in Paradise (1992), Ralitsa Dimitrova´s The College (1992), Hristain Notchev’s The Frontier (1994) and Georgi Dyulgerov’s Chernata Lyastovitsa (1997), but distribution and exhibition proved difficult and critics were vocal.



The new millennium welcomed a fresh optimism, with Bulgarian filmmakers exploring a wider range of film genres. The sole production centre for many years, Bovana Films came to understand the need for diversification and welcomed independent producers and competitive studios. Iglika Triffonova’s coming-home saga Letters To America (2000), Kostadin Bonev’s doco Warming Up Yesterdays Lunch (2002), Andrey Paounov’s The Mosquito Problem And Other Stories (2006) and Zornitsa Sophia’s multi-award winning hit Mila From Mars (2004) were indie productions financed outside the National Film Centre (NFC) funding body. Most heartening were the new talents impacting the scene – Alexa Petrov, director of the controversy-shrouded Baklava (2007); Milena Andonova (Monkeys In Winter, 2006); actresses Aleksandra Sarchadjieva, Elena Koleva and Violeta Markovska, from Seamstresses (2007); and Javor Gardev, director of the noir thriller, Zift (2008).

Festival organisers opened up international events to the new Bulgarian cinema; in 2014, co-directors Kristina Grozeva and Peter Valchanov had their film The Lesson reach the finalist stage of the prestigious European Parliament LUX Film Prize. And the commercial instincts of Bulgaria’s contemporary producers had re-energised; Asen Blatechki directed the action hit Benzin, described as the region’s answer to Hollywood’s hit ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise, complete with LA ring-in, Michael Madsen. (Pictured, right; l-r, Liliana Stanailova, Assen Blatechki and Snejana Makaveeva in Benzin)

In June 2018, the NFC bestowed upon the local sector a fresh round of funding approvals that sent a signal to local producers and directors that the sector was strengthening its talent base for the future. €1.8million was distributed across nine features; at the high end of the production slate are Ivailo Penchev’s Uncle Christmas and Martin Makariev’s Into the Heart of the Machine, which will split a €1million purse, while low-budgeters The Platform and Farewell, Johnny and three short films are to take the remainder of the endowment. It is a declaration of intent from the NFC that Bulgarian film is set to continue its pattern of growth, both domestically and globally.

Key Events:
Sofia International Film Festival – Sofia, Bulgaria; March. ( http://siff.bg/en/ )
From the official website: “Sofia International Film Festival is the leading film festival in Bulgaria. It began in 1997 and attracts more than 70 000 spectators annually. The festival aims to promote important and innovative works of modern world cinema to local audiences and regional Bulgarian and Balkan cinema to international audiences, as well as to encourage cooperation between local and international filmmakers.”

Contact:
National Film Centre
2A Dundukov Blvd., 7th Floor
1000 Sofia.
Tel: (+359 2) 9150 811
Fax: (+359 2) 9150 827
Eml: nfc@nfc.bg
Web: www.nfc.bg
Social: https://www.facebook.com/Bulgarian.National.Film.Center

(All effort has been made to ensure content is comprehensive and accurate at time of publication. No claim to ownership on any visual material; please contact the site directly with issues regarding copyright for immediate resolution)

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