Interview with First Secretary of Bulgarian Embassy, Jivko Kantchev
Independent cinema motivates people to think differently
Art and Experience-Elaheh Godarzi-Arezu Ghorbanpour: Jivko Kantchev has been in Iran as the first secretary of the Bulgarian Embassy for nine months now. He has international relations master degree and he is experiencing his second work in the embassies. Kantchev attended to “Art and Experience” office last month to have a meeting and interview with us about Bulgarian independent cinema’s growth.
As we know we can separate newest history of Bulgarian cinema into three main periods. The first period was during the time it was dependent on the state and the politics. In the second and third era most of the filmmaking industry was independent, how do you evaluate these eras?
The first period covers the years before the transition from the abovementioned old political system. During it many high-quality, original, meaningful movies were made. By that time the cinema was an institution, dependent on the state and the politics. Nevertheless, the cinema could tell many things about the system and its problems.
The second period: During the 90’s for about 10-15 years there was a sort of a vacuum in our cinema, which generated tension among the moviemakers and even created obstacles for the fulfillment of serious and innovatory movie projects. The “clock” of the Bulgarian cinema had to be reset according to the standards, accepted long time ago in Europe and in the rest of the world. Our moviemakers had to turn their backs to the past and to change their mindset as well as the way of making cinema, in order to be in pace with the foreign tendencies. The few quality films produced in that period have rather a sentimental meaning for us. These were mainly TV productions and low-budget films.
The third period is characterized with increasing (in quantity and in quality) film production, enormous competitiveness between knowing, willing and educated in contemporary rules teams. There is a variety of producers’ companies, which are an alternative to the state cinema institution and accelerate the processes in Bulgarian cinema. Television, commercials and documentaries – all of them enrich the market and stimulate the development of serious cinema.
There is a National Film Center in Bulgaria which is under the supervision of the government. How does it work nowadays?
The state supports the creation of films, but only in the frames of its budgetary limits. It is neither easy, nor enough, because the National Film Center can finance annually up to two long movies, two animations and five short or documentary films. So, the rest of the movie production is made by the private and the independent companies. That is why we are having the necessary diversity in order to “register” ourselves on the world cinema map. Our scale is too small to be able to make, with government subsidy, the same quantity and quality of movies as, for example, France, Russia or Sweden do.
What’s your definition of independent cinema?
An independent movie is one, in which beginning or ending there are no sponsors’ logos, and in its contents there are no products advertised. As a matter of fact the cinema cannot be fully independent. It depends on so many things – equipment, locations, people, time…
The definition of independent cinema is: a cinema that is (from A to Z) not biased by any political, economic or other conjuncture interests.
Independent cinema exists since the beginning of the 20th century – the films of Marcel Duchamp, the experimental movies of Andy Warhol, Film Noir in France, and many others. When talking about independent Bulgarian cinema, I could mention: the Maya Vitkova’s movie “Viktoria” (producer-wise it is not a completely Bulgarian film, since it was co-produced by Anka Puiu – a Romanian), which is presenting our country very successfully for the last two years at various prestigious festivals; producer companies, like for example “Agitprop”, which for the last about ten years are creating conditions for independent moviemakers; the scandalous “Uncle Tony, The Three Fools and DS” of Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova, and many others…
What’s your yearly statistics of your independent cinema productions?
There are five feature movies, seven short movies, eighty three short documentary and educational movies and eight animation movies in the list of Bulgarian cinema but unfortunately there isn’t any exact statistics for independent cinema productions. More or less one half of the movie production is independent from state funding. And a part of it is completely independent. On one side, there are the private companies which have built their own scheme for realization of their movies (sometimes in cooperation with the National Film Center or the Bulgarian National Television, but mainly on their own). On the other side, there is the state, which is not able to meet alone the demand for cinema by the audience or by the moviemakers.
So how does the financial source of this kind of cinema which government nearly recovers the shortage of it, is being financed? And what’s the percentage of governments supports?
To summarize, the state, i.e. the National Film Center is trying to support (partly) and to develop Bulgarian cinema in the conditions of constant competitiveness and underfunding.
For the time being we do not have the same legal basis for incentives for the producers and makers of movies as some other countries do. The private companies and personalities (directors, actors, script-writers, etc.) have to find funding for their projects on their own, which makes them independent from the state. But the producer is the leading figure for financing money. The percentage of supports of government which is given by National Film Center or from the private companies and associations is very individual and it depends on each film in particular. That’s why we can’t say the terms and percentage of the financial supports.
How is the situation of Film Festivals related to independent cinema in Bulgaria?
In Bulgaria there are several main festivals and forums for independent cinema: “In the Palace” (Balchik), “So independent” (Sofia), the Jameson Award for short movies, the three movie halls in Sofia, showing mainly unconventional and independent movies – the Odeon Cinema, the House of Cinema and the “G8” cinema hall. Being a part of these associations and forums and the fact that authors can spread their ideas and thoughts, being in a group and having co-thinkers, it will help them by itself.
Movies like “Viktoria”, “Sneakers” and… the animation and documentary cinema; they all show your movie industry’s capabilities but what is your appraisal of the place and the position of Bulgaria cinema between other countries?
We have claimed our place in world cinema quite clearly. The movies we have made for the last some years, which are taking part in festivals all over the world, winning awards and enjoy public interest, prove how much we have changed and how many things we have achieved in cinematography.
What’s the reason behind Bulgarian cinema’s growth and improvement in the recent decade?
The facts that I mentioned before and the circumstances from the last decade or so clearly show the positive trends in our cinema. That growth is due to the competitiveness among many private companies, the gained and shared experience during the joint work with foreign professionals from Russia, Hollywood, France, Turkey, etc., who are making cinema in Bulgaria. Another reason is the released tension from the previous decades, when state and its censorship had the leading role in cinematography. Perhaps this is a situation in which every developing national cinema finds itself – we are following the good examples and we are learning. On this basis we create new and quality products.
Since you have budget limitation for film making and joint productions with other European countries, what’s your cinema’s place in Europe? How do you evaluate yourself?
The joint or the co-productions are very important for the development of the cinema industry. In about half of the cases the co-productions are realized without the participation of the National Film Center (NFC), mainly because its budgetary limitations.
A very good example for a successful co-production, made with a very limited state funding, is the movie “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner” of the director Stephan Komandarev, co-produced with Slovenia, Germany and Hungary. The film received tens of international awards and was even nominated in the Foreign Language Film category for the 82nd Academy Awards (the Oscars).
The film of Kamen Kalev “Eastern Plays”, also without state funding, debuted at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight and was awarded in many international festivals, like the one in Sarajevo.
There are many examples of successful co-productions and I think that this should motivate a better and wider cooperation between institutions, producers and authors.
How are the rules of movie production?
I’m not a director to say the exact rules if movie production and it’s not like there is an specific rules for movie production but in contemporary world of cinema the producer is the leading figure. His role and engagements define the whole process – from the idea till the final cinematographic product. And the creation of such a product requires many things – an idea, finance, a good team coordination, successful fulfillment and good marketing.
To prepare a movie production, except desire, one needs to have experience, research, as well as lots of trust in the people on whom the realization of the idea depends. I.e., it’s not enough to have a good idea; you need to “dress” it in a shape, to calculate what would be the interest for it, and to try to reach the initially expected results.
If there is anything to be changed in Bulgarian cinema, this would be to improve the coordination between the NFC and the private producers, and also more projects to be financed by the state, even with smaller amounts, so that our movie industry could offer more quality products to Bulgarian and international audience.
How is the condition of cinema halls, theaters, movie screenings according to welcoming filmgoers and audiences facing native films? Are they well-received by people?
There is a big and expected interest for Bulgarian films in Bulgaria. Most of the new productions are met willingly by the audience. We could proudly say that Bulgarian films are welcomed by the public, although the dominating role of the foreign hit movies and the Disney animation.
Is your cinema a reflection of the world tendencies?
Yes and no. Inevitably we are influenced by the techniques and the clichés of Hollywood. On the other side, we “refract” these inventions through our own prism. Thus, a popular film series like, for example “Undercover”, is not a copy of the American crime movies, but is an impressive and powerful story about our society. This is why it became the most successful film of its kind in Bulgaria. It is sold very well abroad and is an example of wonderful collaboration between a private producer company and a state television channel (the Bulgarian National Television). The demand is there, that’s why the cinema halls and even television prefers to have more and more native films on the screen.
So do you mean that the most of films on the screen in cinema and even television are native films?
Most of the movies, of course are not the Bulgarian movies because the amount of the movies we produce is not that big in order to fill the movie schedules all the time and stay in the market at the same time. Foreign commercial movies are the main part of the movie screenings and as soon as our movie production has a new product it will be in priority for programing.
Is there any precise statistics for movie screenings?
Yes. If we look at the year 2014, from 5414 movies that have been on screen, 586 were native films, 1283 films were European movies, 3140 were American and 405 were others.
How is the education, studios, theater and cinema halls and other facilities for Bulgarian cinema? How are they effecting and helping the growth of independent cinema?
Education and facilities for creating cinema in Bulgaria are on a very high level. The Cinema Department with the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts has a big and entirely equipped studio. The “NU Boyana Film Studios” (one amongst the few sites in Europe that combine all the necessary facilities for a full film production cycle) are letting young, independent directors, producers and script-writers to use their equipment and studios. There are also several private universities which contribute for the creation of professionals in the fields of cinema and theatre. Among them are the New Bulgarian University and the South-West University “Neofit Rilski”, which also have Cinema and Theatre departments. The various producer companies, which give jobs to all the stagiaires and professionals, are also a peculiar school for creating contemporary cinema. The televisions and the advertisement industry also demand and create conditions for creating professionals.
How was the attendance of Bulgaria in creditable international movie awards and festivals?
I already touched this issue before, when mentioning some films which have won awards in various film festivals. “Viktoria” was in the official selection of the Sundance Festival. “Sneakers” received an award and the admirations of Geraldine Chaplin in Moscow. Some years ago “Zift” won the Silver George Award. I mentioned the Oscar nomination for “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner” and the Sarajevo award for the “Eastern Plays”. There are also documentaries which win awards all over the world, animation films (like “Yellow” of Ivan Rusev), etc.
What’s the role of cinema critics in Bulgaria’s film and filmmaking market?
Cinema critics nowadays do not have a determinative role in the cinema market. It is the audience (specific for each branch of cinema) and the marketing that define the interest to each film.
The “Kino” (cinema) magazine is the main tribune for Bulgarian cinema critics. There are also several TV shows, dealing with movie reviewing.
How much the independent cinema did help the growth of Bulgarian cinema?
Independent cinema is the inseparable part of cinema. As it moves and improves, it will make it complete and it motivates people and any cinema-goers to think differently.
For the last question, how do you see the future of Bulgarian cinema?
My personal view is that independent cinema is obliged to remain independent. It owes it to all the moviegoers, who want to watch serious, socially engaged and sincere cinema. The independent, sometimes unpopular, but valuable cinema is the one that can teach people (especially the young generation) values, creativity, independent and unconventional thinking.