Bulgaria

Yana Marinova and Luiza Grigorova-Makariev in Wildlings by Martin MakarievMARKET ANALYSIS 2020

SOFIA: Critical for culture and film worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was equally difficult for the film industry in Bulgaria.

The first severe restrictions of social and cultural life came after the vote of the Bulgarian Parliament in favour of a state of emergency from 13 March 2020, imposing a lockdown for a month. All culture and entertainment venues including cinemas were obliged to close.

As a result, only days after the official announcement of its 2020 lineup, the Sofia FF had to postpone its 24th edition, which was about to kick off on 12 March 2020 and to be followed by the 17th Sofia Meetings.

The emergency state was extended for another month and lasted till 13 May 2020. After this date smaller cinema halls were authorised to open, but only with a limit of 30% of their capacity. They functioned in this mode until 27 November 2020, when they were closed again.     

Theatrical distribution and exhibition proved to be the most affected sectors of the country's film industry. Admissions decreased by 72.13%, and box office by 72.86%.

Fear by Ivailo HristovConcerned about its shooting plans in Bulgaria, the Sofia-based Nu Boyana Film Studios prepared and issued a detailed COVID-19 Safety Protocol, taking into account both the safety procedures for a visiting US production and the SAG’s guidelines.

The Ministry of Health approved the Bulgarian Film Industry Safety Guidelines under COVID-19 on 1 June 2020. The national authorities agreed on an exemption to the health and entry protocols for individuals involved in the film industry. Film professionals from countries outside the EU were able to enter Bulgaria for work after testing negative for COVID-19 but without a 14 days quarantine. This made the shooting of Till Death by Australian director Scott Dale (Millennium Media) possible in August 2020. Six other foreign films were shot in the country during the year. 

PRODUCTION

A total of 23 feature films were produced in 2020, of which 18 were supported by the Bulgarian National Film Center and three were coproduced by the Bulgarian National Television.

Three feature films were made as majority coproductions and five as minority coproductions. There were six feature film debuts.

A total of 32 short films was made in 2020, of which four were supported by the Bulgarian National Film Center, one by the National Culture Fund, one by the American Foundation for Bulgaria, one by the New Bulgarian University, and two by the Bulgarian National Television.

A total of 14 short films were made through the Nu Boyana Film Studios’ brand for all educational initiatives – FilmForge.

Bulgarian films quickly started to enter production after the lifting of the Emergency state on 14 May 2020, despite the sanitary restrictions. A total of 11 titles, including five debuts, were entirely or partially shot till the end of the year.

In September 2020 Theodore Ushev shot his first feature film φ1.618, produced by Peripeteia, a dark dystopia based on Vladislav Todorov’s novel The Spinning Top, referring to the Golden Ratio.

In August 2020 Victor Bojinov shot his low-budget musical drama The Naked Truth about Zhiguli Band, produced by Concept studio. Almost immediately after that, he also shot his higher Scenes From the Life of an Actress by Ivan Vladimirovbudget ethical drama Chamla, produced by Gala Film.

Well known for his documentaries The Good Postman (2016) and The Magic Life of V (2019), Tonislav Hristov shot his debut feature The Good Driver as a Finnish/Bulgarian coproduction between Making Movies and Soul Food.

On 27 August 2020 director Martin Makariev wrapped his period film In the Heart of the Machine, an ambitious dissection of the confrontation between ordinary prisoners and totalitarian authorities in 1978, produced by Forward Pictures Entertainment.

By the end of 2020 Magdelena Ilieva also wrapped her debut feature Eternity Package, a black comedy about guilt and forgiveness, coproduced by Bulgaria’s Agitprop and Italy’s Mammut Film. 

After his 2019 debut A Picture with Yuki, coproduced by Bulgaria’s Chouchkov Brothers and Japan’s WA Entertainment, Lachezar Avramov shot his second feature Yellow Oleander, a black comedy with a political twist, produced by Premier studio.

By the very end of 2020 Ivailo Penchev started shooting his large audience tragicomedy Uncle Christmas, produced by Cinemaq.

The 38th edition of the Golden Rose National FF, with 19 feature films and 22 short films in two official competitions, was lucky enough to take place in Varna as a physical event from 24 September to 1 October 2020. Two films stood out: Ivailo Hristov’s Fear (Golden Rose and Best Actress for Svetlana Yancheva) and Ivan Vladimirov’s Scenes from the Life of an Actress, produced by Gala Film (Special Jury Award, Best Director and Best Scriptwriter).

In contrast, the 25th edition of the national film festival for documentaries and animated films Golden Rhyton, initially scheduled as a physical event in the city of Plovdiv (27 November - 3 December 2020) had to turn online (4 - 10 December 2020). The decision came shortly after the implementation of stricter COVID-19 sanitary restrictions on 27 November 2020, when all Before the End by Eldora Traykovatheatres were closed again. Eldora Traykova’s Before the End was awarded Best Documentary and Andrey Koulev’s Santiago won Best Animated Film.

Fourteen foreign films of different scales were partly or entirely shot in Bulgaria in 2020. Italian producer Fiorenza Cella managed to shoot five films, mainly intended for big TV channels, through Free Dolphin International and Sofia-based Free Dolphin Studios.

On the other side, Nu Boyana Film Studios stated they were proud of the result of their nine months’ work, when it was possible to shoot. According to an official announcement, Nu Boyana completed the production of “eight feature films and 16 international commercials for world brands”. Apart from Scott Dale’s Till Death (Millennium Media), the list of the films shot or serviced also includes Daniel Stamm’s The Devils Light (Lionsgate), Samuel Bodin’s Cobweb (Lionsgate), Castille Landon’s After We Fell & After Ever Happy (Voltage) and Martin Campbell’s The Asset (Millennium Media).

The CEO of Nu Boyana Film Studios Yariv Lerner publicly expressed on various occasions his satisfaction with the Bulgarian government. According to him, thanks to the preferential support and the rules introduced inside Nu Boyana, it became possible to launch several international productions and to provide work opportunities in a difficult year.

COVID GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

Unlike other European countries, the emergency financial measures in Bulgaria were not specifically focused on the film sector. The nearly 3,000 people engaged in the film industry under different forms did not get targeted assistance.

Most of the packages were aimed at the general culture sector. The beneficiaries of different aids were both independent artists, and state and municipal culture institutions. The first financial aid of 312 EUR / 610 BGN for three months was granted to freelance artists, but only under the condition that their 2019 monthly income was less than 500 EUR. Around 1,200 of nearly 2,200 independent artists received this type of support.

Santiago by Andrey KoulevThose whose 2019 monthly income was more than 500 EUR were eligible to apply for monthly interest-free loans of up to 750 EUR each, repayable over the next 10 years.

At the same time, state and municipal performing arts institutes got subsidies covering six months subsequent to the start of the state of emergency.

Since 31 March 2020 legal entities with artistic and creative activities and screening halls throughout the country could apply for state support in order to cover 60% of the monthly wages of their employees, if their jobs were preserved.

Also, the National Fund for Culture, managed by the Ministry of Culture, restructured some of its calls in order to direct more funds to the independent culture sector. Some regulations were updated to allow eligible costs to include an increase of administration costs to 30%.

DISTRIBUTION

According to the NFC, a total of 169 films were theatrically released in 2020. The list includes 63 US films, 72 European films, 29 domestic films and five films from other countries.

Total admissions were 1,337,951, of which 1,024,215 were generated by American films, 143,003 by European films and 135,984 by domestic films.

Although 2020 was particularly difficult for the creative industry and film people in Bulgaria, several directors and actors had impressive achievements on the international stage.

Kamen Kalev’s personal and contemplative February, coproduced between France’s Koro Films and Bulgaria’s Waterfront Film, with Memento Film International as sales agent, became one of the 56 titles in the Cannes 2020 Official Selection.

Ivailo Hristov’s Fear, produced by Pro Film, won the best film award at the 2020 Tallinn Black Nights FF, together with the top prize of the 38th Golden Rose National FF (24 September - 1 October 2020).

February by Kamen KalevMina Mileva’s and Vesela Kazakova’s Bulgarian/UK/French debut feature Cat In the Wall, a coproduction between Activist 38, Glasshead and Ici et Là Productions, continued its international success from 2019 and was included in the Feature Film Selection of the 2020 European Film Awards.

The 27 minute animated film The Physics of Sorrow by Bulgarian-born Canadian animator Theodore Ushev, based on Georgi Gospodinov’s novel under the same name, won over 40 international awards including the 2020 Annecy IAFF Crystal Award and the 2020 Clermont-Ferrand ISFF Grand Prix.

Due to her off-beat performance as Tutar Sagdiyev in Sacha Cohen’s 2020 extravagant comedy Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Four by Two Films/Oak Spring Productions), Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova made an unexpected but cute breakthrough in the USA and elsewhere.

In turn, Martina Apostolova, who impressed the international audience with her lead performance in Nadejda Koseva’s debut Irina, produced by Art Fest, became Bulgaria’s 2020 Berlinale Shooting star.

Julian Vergov, the lead in Pavel G. Vesnakov’s Bulgarian/German debut feature German Lessons, produced by Moviemento/Heimathafen Film & Media, won best actor at the 2020 Cairo IFF.

Sofia-based Doli Media Studio carried out the full restoration of the three parts epic Measure for Measure (1981) by Georgi Djulgerov, assuring the entire financial and technical support.

Only days after the official announcement of its 2020 lineup, the Sofia FF had to postpone its 24th edition, which was about to kick off on 12 March 2020 and to be followed by the 17th Sofia Meetings. Stefan Kitanov, the director of the festival, defined the situation as „dramatic“ and the pressure for urgent decisions as a “matter of survival.”

Getting over the unexpected shock, the Sofia FF team mobilised its energy and resized its content in two modules: the Sofia FF Summer, held 25 June - 10 July 2020 with 12 films in competition and 80 films screened online and at open-air venues, and the Sofia FF Autumn, held 24 September - 15 October 2020 with over 90 films and 11 premieres of Bulgarian feature Ivan Barnev in The Father by Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanovfilms and documentaries shown on big screens and online. The Sofia Meetings industry event was held online 3 - 8 July 2020.

VOD PLATFORMS AND ONLINE DISTRIBUTION

In the absence of normal theatrical distribution almost all year round, online platforms gained energy.

Neterra TV+ turned out to be one of the most prominent platforms offering new Bulgarian films to the audience. Established in 2004 by the telecommunications company Neterra, it has since offered services for the distribution of legal TV and radio content, films and music, live broadcasting of live events.

Neterra.TV is the first television platform for Bulgarians living abroad and Neterra TV+ has a constantly updated catalogue of Bulgarian films, highly requested by Bulgarians living abroad. Foreign films are mostly watched by people living in Bulgaria.

The first festival that Neterra TV+ hosted online was the Master of Art Documentary Film Festival (9 - 30 April 2020). Neterra’ s marketing manager Maya Kalcheva stated that “In the current situation of physical and social distance, Neterra decided to lend a hand to the Master of Art Film Festival and make, for the first time in Bulgaria, a 100% online version of a film event”.

Neterra TV+ also hosted the otherwise extremely popular with theatrical audience Book&Movie IFF CineLibri (18 October –11 November 2020).

Another online platform trying to strongly position itself on the market was gledam.bg. Available for EU territories, the platform has demonstrated preferences for classical Bulgarian films and tries to keep up with at least one premiere a month. Online premieres of new Bulgarian films are also a priority.

One of the nicest surprises of 2020 was the Sofia DocuMental International Documentary FF focused on human rights, which was initiated and is organised by the Balkan Documentary Center, with Martichka Bozhilova as director. Originally planned as a physical event, the festival was also forced to go online. The selection of films was reduced to 15 titles, available from 10 Yataghan by Andrey Andonov and Vladimir Borisovto 18 December 2020 on stream.documental.bg. On the other hand, the forced online format proved useful to the quality of discussions on various important social issues, with the participation of prominent Bulgarian and foreign filmmakers and human rights experts.

EXHIBITION AND BOX OFFICE

In 2020 total admissions were 1,337,951 and total box office was 6,485,835 EUR, while in 2019 total admissions were 4,801,045 and total box office was 23,895,950 EUR.

US films had 5,074,515 EUR gross, European titles had 651,014 EUR gross, and domestic films had 596,640 EUR gross.

In 2020 admissions decreased by 72.13%, while box office decreased by 72.86%.

During the first two months of 2020 Martin Makariev’s Wildlings (Spirit Production House), which premiered in 2019, had 42,478 admissions and 192,435 EUR gross. 

Andrey Andonov’s Yatagan (A Plus Films), which premiered on 21 February 2020, did not have enough time to attract more than 34,158 admissions and 153,160  EUR gross. 

Viktor Chouchkov’s 18% Grey (Chouchkov Brothers) premiered on 21 January 2020 and had 19,983 admissions and 86,790 EUR gross, while Yana Titova’s A Dose of Happiness (No Blink Studio / bTV Studios), also a premiere film from the end of 2019, had 9,374 admissions and 41,606 EUR gross in 2020.

Radoslav Iliev’s entertaining Action (Incomes Project), which premiered on 29 January 2020, ranked 5th with 5,127 admissions and 20,479 EUR gross.

Niki Iliev’s Reunion (Silver Light Pictures), also known by the audience from 2019, had 4,729 admissions and 17,245 EUR gross in 2020. 

Bogomil Kalinov’s debut feature Ashes Over Sun (Invictus) premiered on 29 October 2020 and had 4,328 admissions and 19,321 EUR gross, while Georgi Kostov’s The Rest Is Dolya Gavanski and Ruscen Vidinliev in 18% Grey by Viktor ChouchkovAshes (Korund-X) premiered on 5 March 2020 and had 3,629 admissions and 18,788 EUR gross.  

Ivaylo Spasov’s privately financed Relationology (Spasov Brothers), which premiered on 14 February 2020, had 3,224 admissions and 14,847 EUR gross.

Kristina Grozeva’s and Petar Valchanov’s The Father (Abraxas Film / Graal Films), scheduled to start commercial release on 4 April 2020, had to wait until 24 July 2020, when it attracted 1,914 admissions and collected 7,187 EUR gross.

A total of 65 cinemas were partially functioning during the year 2020. Six new digital cinemas started working, including two open-air and one drive-in cinema.

GRANTS AND NEW LEGISLATION

Public funding for film in 2020 remained the same as in 2019, amounting to 7,515,991 EUR / 14.7 m BGN. A total of 85% of the sum was planned to be allocated to all types of film production, including minority coproductions. The rest of the money was intended to be allocated to local theatrical distribution of Bulgarian films, including minority coproductions (5%), festivals (5%) and exhibition of films (5%).

By the end of 2020 the Council of Ministers started a procedure on amending the country’s Film Industry Act. The most important change consisted in the introduction of an up to 25% cash rebate for foreign productions shooting in Bulgaria. The draft, aimed at increasing the number of supported Bulgarian films, passed its first of two Parliamentary readings on 4 December 2020, but it is still under discussion.

TV

Two big transactions on Bulgaria’s audiovisual market were finalised in 2020. The first one was the sale of the Bulgarian television group bTV, composed of bTV, bTV Cinema, bTV Comedy, bTV Action, bTV Lady, and Ring bTV, by the Central European Media Enterprises (CME) group to the Czech businessman Petr Kellner’s PPF. The deal was approved by the European Commission, which concluded that “the transaction would raise no competition concerns in the European Economic Area”.

Valentina Karoleva in A Dose of Happiness by Yana TitovaThe second deal was the transaction of Nova Broadcast Group signed at the end of December 2020. United Group, already present on the Bulgarian market as the owner of the country’s telecom operator Vivacom, bought Nova Group with its TV channels including the national Nova TV, and four radio stations. Having also acquired a number of print and online newspapers, the Telegraph and the Monitor dailies among others, United Group became Bulgaria’s largest multiplatform media company.

On 28 October 2020 the Bulgarian National Television announced a call for applications for different types of projects, including TV series, TV films and TV adaptations of classical and contemporary literary works. The amount provided for the new audiovisual products to come is about 2 m EUR.

In September 2020 Nova TV commenced broadcasting its new criminal series Brothers, tracing the family conflicts between two men with diametrically opposed professions, interests and moral values. 

In the autumn of 2020 director Ilian Djevelekov shot his six part series The Portal, backed by the BNT, with Miramar as executive producer. Written by Matey Konstantinov, Ilian Djevelekov and Nelly Dimitrova, the series describes the unexpected trips of a man through time between 1979 and 2019. Over 80 actors and extras took part in the shootings, recreating different periods and locations from Sofia’s past.

CONTACTS:

BULGARIAN NATIONAL FILM CENTER
Executive Director: Jana Karaivanova
2 A, Dondukov Blvd., 7th floor
1000 Sofia, Bulgaria
Phone: + 359 2 9150 811
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.nfc.bg

UNION OF BULGARIAN FILMMAKERS
Chairman: Milko Lazarov
67, Dondukov Blvd.
1504 Sofia, Bulgaria
Phone: + 359 2 946 10 68
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.filmmakersbg.org

Julian Vergov in Ashes Over Sun by Bogomil KalinovMINISTRY OF CULTURE
Minister of Culture: Boil Banov
17, Stamboliiski Blvd.
1040 Sofia, Bulgaria
Phone: + 359 2 940 09 00 (switchboard)
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.mc.government.bg

BULGARIAN NATIONAL FILM ARCHIVE
Director: Antonia Kovacheva
36, Gurko Str.
1000 Sofia, Bulgaria
Phone: + 359 2 987 02 96
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.bnf.bg

BULGARIAN NATIONAL TELEVISION
General Director: Emil Koshlukov
29, San Stefano Str.
1504 Sofia, Bulgaria
Phone: + 359 2 814 22 14
Phone.: + 359 2 944 49 99 (switchboard)
www.bnt.bg

Report by Pavlina Jeleva (2021)
Source: Bulgarian National Film Center