Bulgarian Cinema - to Finance or Not to Finance?

Editorial |Author: Maria Guineva | December 20, 2010, Monday // 16:40|  views

Something unusual happened in Bulgaria recently – Bulgarian filmmakers, so often divided, raised as one against the intentions of the GERB cabinet to amend the Film Industry Act.

The month of December saw a number of protest rallies where the artists demanded clarifications on how exactly movie making will be financed. Budget 2011, which was passed by the Parliament, provides for subsidies for up to 7 motion pictures, 14 documentaries and 160 minutes of animation and only "if there is a chance" for it.

In a declaration, the Culture Ministry pointed out the amendments only aim at having film funding corresponding to the possibilities of the State budget and noted motion pictures must be produced not only for a small group of Bulgarian filmmakers, but for real Bulgarian and international audiences.

The unwavering demonstrators then asked the resignation of Culture Minister, Vezhdi Rashidov, and of his Deputy, Dimitar Dereliev.

Dereliev's head rolled with the decision of Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, to fire him, saying he created a mess.

Borisov finally met with the filmakers to state a will for new policy in film industry and ordered the establishment of working groups to propose changes, bringing a temporary and fragile ceasefire.

All this happened in the backdrop of a scandal, raging far beyond the country's borders. The "Michelle Bonev" outrage was stirred by a Bulgarian-born actress, under the same name, working in Italy. Italian media insist she received a "fabricated" Venice Film Fest award, created just for her under the influence of Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, because the two have been friendly. The reports triggered demands for the resignation of Italian Minister of Culture Sandro Bondi.

The Venice Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation in the award and the source of the EUR 400 000 to pay for the 40-strong Bulgarian delegation, led by Rashidov, to attend the official ceremony.

Bonev insists she was the one shelling the amount, along with EUR 3 M to fund the making of her movie "Goodbye Mama."

Meanwhile, it was also revealed the Bulgarian National Film Center granted Bonev a subsidy of BGN 300,000 for her "Goodbye Mama" project.

The truth of the matter is that out of the dozen or so Bulgarian movies made each year a few are very good while the others leave the audience wondering "what the heck?"

So, before debating if the State must subsidize movie making in Bulgaria, we should take a look at how the meager resources are distributed. Who are the people on the Bulgarian National Film Center Artistic Committee and what are the criteria they base their decisions on? The fact BGN 300 000 went to a movie no one knows anything about, a movie seen mainly by the 40 members of the Bulgarian delegation in Venice, despite Rashidov's own insistence on "real" audiences, certainly raises a brow. Moreover – why did this money go to someone who, apparently, had at least EUR 3.5 M for it?

As far as financing when there is "chance," such language is mindboggling, legal experts say; it cannot be used in the text of any Act otherwise all laws reinforcement should turn optional.

On the larger issue –should Bulgarian films be financed by the State at all, the strongest opponents give as example Hollywood where filmmakers cannot even think about federal subsidies, but still make billions in profit.

This comparison is both flawed and unfair. Experts say a country must have a population of at least 60 million in order to finance the film industry by the audiences.

Many places in Bulgaria no longer even have a cinema; most Bulgarians cannot afford a movie ticket, while the wide-spread and popular internet piracy allows them to enjoy Hollywood motion pictures right at home.

Hollywood has wealthy private sponsors; in Bulgaria people are neither wealthy nor to do the few ones wish to sponsor movies.

Then there is the language barrier and the often too local stories of a small nation which, unlike Hollywood, prevent the distribution of Bulgarian films on the international market.

And last, but not least, often award winning movies do not turn automatically into blockbusters.

More on the difference between commercial and independent movie making read HERE.

Instead of comparing our films with Hollywood, we should stay within the European practices where subsidies are a State policy and filmmaking is seen not only as a product bringing profits but as the educational and culture instrument of the nation.

Canceling funding for Bulgarian movies on the base we can, and are, mostly watching American ones is a slippery slope. Does this mean we should stop composing music and writing books? In a country where many lost their direction in the last 20 years and many left, culture in general and films in particular should be part of a well-balanced and well-thought State policy.

"Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future" - Albert Camus

And here is my firsthand memory of Bulgarian emigrants flocking to the Bulgarian film festival at the American University in Washington DC in numbers comparable to the recent US tour of the Slavi Trifonov show.

Meanwhile, a top Bulgarian movie event went almost unnoticed locally - Bulgarian film director Svetoslav Ovcharov and his movie "Voice Over" took the Best Director Award and the International Federation of Film Critics FIPRESCI award at one of the most important and emblematic film events in the world – the Cairo International Film Festival while actress Kasiel Noah Asher – the leading female character, received a number of accolades for her performance. They enjoyed the warm welcome of the audience, the extraordinary interest towards the movie, and invitations to take part in live shows, aired by several Egyptian TV channels.

Very few print and electronic Bulgarian media reported on their success. The creators say they are elated, but their happiness seems marred by little bitterness - for receiving small local recognition and over the fact the Bulgarian institutions failed to notify the Embassy in Cairo, leaving our diplomats entirely "in the dark" about "Voice Over's" participation and triumph at the prestigious international competition.

Another missed opportunity on the part of the State to show the world Bulgaria has something to brag about beyond the slamming reputation of terrorist attacks on the Reichstag and the Pope, of illegal weapon trading, organized crime, corruption, CEOs with fake credentials and diplomats with ties to Communist security, still swarming our Embassies across the globe.

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Tags: Slavi Trifonov, US tour, Film Industry Act, Vezhdi Rashidov, Silvio Berlusconi, Venice, Goodbye Mama, scandal, Italy, FIPRESCI, Best Director Award, Kasiel Noah Asher, Michelle Bonev, budget cuts, filmmakers, Cairo, international film festival, Voice Over, Svetoslav Ovcharov, protest, GERB, Dimitar Dereliev


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