Farewell Hemingway, hello Bulgaria

By Darek Kuzma

    Svetoslav Ovtcharov's A Farewell to Hemingway is the latest piece from Bulgaria, which in the last five years has pulled itself out of cinematic oblivio.

    According to the producer of the film, Assen Vladimirov, it's a good start for a Bulgarian New Wave that should come arrive soon. Vladimirov is optimistic about it the state of new Bulgarian cinema; Bulgarian movies are starting to win international film festivals such as Sofia, Karlovy Vary, and Cottbus. A Farewell to Hemingway is still fresh and has already won the Special Jury Prize and Best Director Award at the festival in Varna.

    The story is set in Bulgaria in 1922. A rampageous young American on his way to Paris is forced to get off the Orient Express train at a remote station. He is helped by the station chief, but when the chief's daughter wants to leave with the stranger for France, the father of the runaway-to-be acts on the spot, getting the American drunk and putting him on the night train. The next morning he finds a piece of paper in the stranger's room, with just two words written on it: Ernest Hemingway.

    The idea for the film was based on the fact that in 1922 Hemingway spent one day in Bulgaria. The rest is fiction. Written four years ago, the film needed changes in the Bulgarian system of financing to become a full-length feature. But even with major changes in government funding, it will still be difficult to make strictly Bulgarian films. Why? Bulgaria has become a film center for American productions.

    Bulgaria-based Boyana Film studio, one of the largest in Europe, was one of the first Eastern European studios to attract Americans productions. In 2005 Boyana Film was bought by Nu Image, becoming Nu Boyana. Now, as Vladimirov wistfully remarks, Americans shoot more movies in the studio, but Bulgarian filmmakers cannot afford the rental costs, which costs. So, Vladimirov concludes, there are mixed feelings about the studio and its part in putting Bulgaria on the film map of Europe. For Bulgarian filmmakers, as the only remaining option has been national television.

    Can new films like A Farewell to Hemingway generate buzz and bring producers to this small country of only seven million inhabitants? For now government grants and financing from the national television (which is now obliged to give 10% of its budget to film productions) is enough. But when - and if - the Bulgarian New Wave takes off, as in neighbouring Romania, increasing production demands will need more funding.

    A Farewell to Hemingway started its march through film festivals with the Warsaw film festival. Next on the horizon is Thessaloniki. What happens next remains to be seen.