SOFIA: Despite severe cutbacks in funding, Bulgarian films had another strong year, attracting international attention and domestic audiences. The film services industry was bolstered by the largest-ever international production, and Bulgarian broadcasters premiered locally-produced series that were hits at home and were sold internationally. The year ended with the announcement of the first government grants for film production in over a year, although limited in number and size.
Box Office: 2011
Bulgarian films scored big at the domestic box office for the second consecutive year. Three debuts had especially strong results: Ilian Djevelekov's Love.net produced by Miarmar Film (www.miramarfilm.com) a romantic comedy dedicated to IT obsessions: the eccentric comedy produced by Sofia based C&R Production Operation Shmenti Capelli (www.shmentikapeli.com), written and acted by popular actor Vladislav Karamfilov-Vargala and directed by Ivan Mitov; and Viktor Chouchkov Jr.'s Tilt produced by Chouchkov Brothers Productins (www.ch-bros.com),which was Bulgaria's official selection for the Academy Awards. Love.net attracted 205,000 spectators and 702,000 EURbox office, Operation Shmenti Capelli had 253,000 spectators and 528,000 EURbox office, and Tilt had143,000 spectators and 477,000 EUR box office.
Nine Bulgarian films were distributed in 2011, gaining 11.38% of the audience and 11.35% from the 19m EUR total box office. This was an increase of 12.1% over 2010, which was boosted by the box office hit Mission London (produced by SIA Advertising www.sia.bg and directed by Dimitar Mitovski; a Bulgarian, Hungarian, UK, Swedish Macedonian coproduction. The total audience of 4.6 million represented an increase of 10%. The average price of a ticket fell 8% to 4.4 EUR. The total number of titles distributed (as of 10 December 2011) was 114. (Source Geopoly Film, www.geopoly-film.com).
Dragomir Sholev's debut Shelter, produced by Klas Film Bulgaria (www.klasfilm.com)in whicha young boy tries to determine his identity in a punk environment with hopelessly lost parents, grabbed the Sofia IFF (www.siff.bg) award. Ivan Vladimirov's and Valery Yordanov's first feature Sneakers, produced by Gala Film (www.galafilm-bg.com) about a hippy-style attempt by six young people to escape real life on a lonely Black Sea beach.
The biggest surprise was the eccentric debut film Operation Shmenti Capelli. Bulgarian audiences adored Karamfilov's interpretation of a popular idiomatic expression describing people who bamboozle and deceive. The film was made without any national funding. Karamfilov raised the €500,000 budget over six years.
Another audience favourite was the super-low-budget Lora from Morning Till Evening produced by Spotlight Production (www.spotlight-bg.com)and directed byDimitar Kotsev-Shosho (made for only €5,000 and shot with a Canon 7D) in which 30-year-old Lora receives two packages of mysterious dice. Another low-budget film, Yassen Grigorov's Little-Big produced by The Flying Agency and Makutu Media (www.makutumedia.com)offered up different styles from Bulgaria's contemporary music scene. Atanas Hristoskov's debut and Bulgaria's "first hip-hop film" NO.1 produced by Incoms Project of Sofia showed the sharp conflict between two schools located in the same building. The 75-minute HD film won the "Golden Rose" award (www.nfc.bg) at the Festival of the Bulgarian Feature Film.
The festival celebrated its 30th anniversary edition despite the severe financial crisis. The National Film Center of Bulgaria (NFC) also celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2011. NFC acting director Irina Kanousheva defended the festival's 100 000 EUR budget saying it was necessary to "restore the normal rhythm of filmmaking" in Bulgaria. Twelve Bulgarian features (only half of them supported by public funding) were screened in competition in the main program and three co-productions were shown in the information section: There Was Never a Better Brother by Murad Ibragimbekov, BG co-producer Miramar Film(www.miramarfilm.com), Rules of Single Life by Tonislav Hristov, BG co-producer Agitprop (www.agitprop.bg) and Mothers by Milcho Manchevski, BG co-producer Camera (www.camera.bg).
Kamen Kalev's second film The Island (www.waterfrontfilm.net), with a cast that included France's Laetitia Casta and Denmark's Thure Lindhardt, provoked bewilderment in its blending of romance and grotesque, but was picked up by French company Le Pacte (www.le-pacte.com) for international sale and selected for the 2011 Cannes Directors Fortnight. Le Pacte also acquired Konstantin Bojanov's debut Ave, following Kalev's acclaimed debut Eastern Plays (www.easternplays.com). It becamethe first Bulgarian film to be selected for the Cannes Critics' Week. The love story between a young woman hitchhiker who creates false identities for herself and an alienated art student went on to win high critical acclaim. It will be released in Bulgarian cinemas in 2012.
Internationally, "young Bulgarian Cinema" started to attract more attention with intriguing contemporary themes and original vision participating in numerous international festivals and winning awards. The latest "Golden Rose" Grand prix to NO.1, thefirst financed by the Bulgarian National Television (www.bnt.bg) and afterwards co-financed by the NFC (www.nfc.bg) was an important indicator of the changing attitude. Young audiences demonstrated growing interest in films made by directors of their generation.
In 2011 Bulgarian film suffered from government funding being blocked until November when the National Film Center (www.nfc.bg) was finally able to make its first call for grant selection.
Funding was thrown into crisis at the end of 2010 when the government tried to reduce funding by 60% and amend the Film Industry Act. Bulgarian filmmakers took to the streets in protest and won concessions from the government and an agreement that public support would be just over 9M EUR in 2011. Under pressure from the filmmakers the government also agreed to establish a new National Film Fund and a new National Startegy for the development of the Bulgarian film industry
But by the end of 2011 the available funding for the film industry was just over 5M EUR.
In December 2011 the first grant session in almost two years took place. The competition was particularly fierce, especially in the feature film section: 79 projects applied for funding of just €1.35 million. Only 2 feature projects were approved: Stefan Komandarev's The Judgement produced by his Sofia based Argofilm (www.argofilm.eu) and Konstadin Bonev's The Sinking of Sozopol produced by his Trivium Films (www.trivium-films.com). The first is focused on the Southeast of Bulgaria, where the Bulgarian, the Greek and the Turkish borders meet and where immigrants are constantly smuggled. The second looks at the Black sea coast where "the sea engulfs a city" because people have stopped loving each other. The cutback in funding affected most of all the debuts. Only one debut film, Red Gold directed(by Martin Kisselov was supported.
In 2011 Bulgarian TV a lively competition between commercial channel bTV (www.btv.bg) and the pubcaster Bulgarian National Television (www.bnt.bg) produced a bumper crop of successful TV series. The trend began at bTV in 2010 with Glass Home (www.btv.bg/seriali/glass-home), which dramatized the rises and the falls of several families interrelated by the ownership and management of a modern shopping mall. Another big hit on bTV wasthefamily saga Seven Hours Difference (www.btv.bg/seriali/7chasa), which is still being aired successfully. Directed by Magardich Halvadzhiyan, owner of Global Films (www.globalfilms-bg.com), the series also focuses several Bulgarian families who divide their lives between New York and Sofia.
Bulgarian National Television (www.bnt.bg) offered a competitor in the form of the detective programme Under Cover (www.podprikritie.bg/episodes) produced by Camera (www.camera.bg).The misadventures of a young man embroiled in a dangerous gangis in its second season. Under Cover became the first Bulgarian TV series to be presented at the American Film Market, represented by sales agent New Films International (www.newfilmsint.com). According to the BNT the series "introduced the public broadcaster to the global film market."
The competition between the two stations continued, with bTV's sitcom Metropolitan Citizens More ,and BNT's The English Neighbor (bnt.bg/bg/movies/details/1213/anglijskijat_sysed) directed by Dotcho Bodjakov.
In October 2011 the public broadcaster managed to reopen its second channel BNT2 (http://tv.bnt.bg/bnt2/). Known as Efir 2 the channel was originally launched in 1975 but shutdown in 2000. A new business channel, Bulgaria On Air (www.bgonair.bg) began broadcasting in September, 2011 specializing in economic themes.
Foreign Film Services
The biggest foreign production to shoot in Bulgaria in 2011 was the US production The Expendables 2. Several months of preparation and shooting took place at the Sofia-based NU Boyana studios (www.nuboyana.com) and on location. NU Boyana's CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors David Varod used the opportunity to again lobby Bulgaria's government to adopt a tax shelter law. Shortly before the beginning of production on The Expendables 2 Nu Boyana told FNE, "Bulgaria has a perfect environment for developing its film industry. In order to develop the potential, incentives for the industry have to be introduced. The introduction should run parallel to the creation of a film fund for Bulgarian movies to ensure the national film production. Film incentives have been functioning in EU countries since 2002. One after another countries with traditions or ambitions in film making have introduced in one form or another tools for attracting international film projects. More and more producers visit Bulgaria and then choose other, more competitive countries as locations for their productions."
While Bulgarian filmmakers achieved considerable domestic and international success in the face of economic difficulties in 2011, the funding crisis is likely to continue into 2012 when funding for film will not exceed 6.05m EUR. Filmmakers are asking the government if the promised Film Fund or a tax shelter law will be adopted in the near future.