FNE 2010 Year in Review: Bulgaria's Contradictory Year for Film

By Pavlina Jeleva

    For the Bulgarian film industry 2010 was a year of high optimism and bitter disappointment at the same time. Optimism and pride in the industry's accomplishments hit the wall of the national economic crisis, and a drop in funding just when it could have the most impact.

    Out of ten films produced in 2010, three Bulgarian films were selected in the competitions of three "A" rated international film festivals.

    The emotional love/emigration story of a young man from the communist era Footsteps in the Sand (www.imdb-bg.net) by Ivailo Hristov was shown in Moscow; the "impressively confident and accomplished feature debut" showing present-day young generations Shelter by Dragomir Sholev screened in San Sebastian; and the "secret police files" drama Voice Over by Svetoslav Ovcharov was presented in Cairo. Actor Ivan Barnev, famous for his over 120 roles in theatre and film, was memorable both in Footsteps in the Sand and in Voice Over.

    Footsteps in the Sand also received the recognition of the audience at the 29th "Golden Rose" Varna National Film Festival for the strong "emotion of its tone." Because of the credibility in showing "pain in life" Shelter was chosen in Varna for the best Bulgarian debut. In March Voice Over opened the 2010 Sofia Film Fest and in December grabbed the "best director" and the FIPRESCI (www.fipresci.org) awards at the 34th Cairo International Film Festival (www.cairofilmfest.org). The president of the international jury Arturo Ripstein from Mexico said, "The film shows the strong devotion of its author to the dramatic lives and fates of the characters - he knows them well, he identifies with them and suffers with them. The film also impresses with its original structure - very precise and filled with surprises at the same time. I would call it a reflection of reflections with the present painfully reflecting on the past where the characters are tragically entangled in the narrow space of a psychological dead-lock".

    In early spring Dimitar Mitovski's Mission London (www.mission-london.com) became the 2010 national box office topper with over 400,000 admissions. Spectators of all ages adored the bitterly ironical episodes taken from the contemporary political reality in Bulgaria.

    The debut teenage romance Hunting Down Small Predators by director/actor Tzvetodar Markov was the first national HD film, screened in DCDM equipped theatres in Bulgaria. The plot in which four Sofia teenagers mix with the underground world of powerful criminals proved a hit young audiences.

    Another emotional love story set just before the fall of the Berlin wall, Victor Chuchkov Jr.'s ambitious and youthful Tilt, was also recognized as a successful debut film. Its theatrical distribution is expected in February 2011.

    One positive public initiative was the establishment of a national Film Academy whose nearly 500 members representing all professions in cinema for the first time decided the annual film awards by a democratic vote. Topping the list of eleven 2009 feature films as "film of the year" was Eastern Plays (www.easternplays.com). The film became Bulgaria's official entry to the 2011 Oscar best foreign language film competition and also won the "Golden Rose" award.

    Unfortunately, during the second half of the year and in the conditions of a heavy economic crisis, the national cinema became the victim of an over 60% cut of the €9.5M euro annual public support. Regardless of the announcement that 14 new titles would be produced by the end of the year, financial restrictions forced the National Film Center (www.nfc.bg) to cancel the grant selection committees until the end of the year. Growing tension in the film community started in the beginning of October during the 29th "Golden Rose" national film festival with the refusal of the awarded artists to officially accept the awards on stage. Their first requests asked that the annual public support stated in the Film Industry Act (2003) be distributed at its full amount. The Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov announced that it would be difficult to respect the Film Industry Act, because "it was voted in the environment of a growing economy" insinuating that it would not be impossible to abrogate it. An amendment in the film law indicating a reduction in funding led to protests in the streets and demands for resignations, and the deputy minister of culture Dimitar Dereliev was dismissed.

    As the year draws to a close, the film community continues to press for a complete change in the vision for the future development of the Bulgarian film and the creation of a Film Fund, able to supplement the insufficient state subsidy. Without it, it will be difficult to secure adequate public money for film in 2011.