US Producers Richard Harding & Sam Feuer: Story of Bulgarian Nurses' Libya HIV Trial Worthy of Hollywood FilmInterview |Author: Ivan Dikov | March 14, 2011, Monday // 13:19| views
US producers Richard Harding (left) and Sam Feuer (right) hope to shoot their feature film on the story of the Bulgarian nurses in the Libya HIV trial. Photo by BGNES
An exclusive interview of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) with Hollywood producers Richard Harding and Sam Feuer working on a feature film on the dramatic story of the 6 Bulgarian medics jailed in Libya in 1999-2007 for allegedly infecting deliberately 400 children with HIV.
Harding and Feuer are from Sixth Sense Productions, based in Beverly Hills, CA. They were in Sofia for the showing of their latest production, "The First Grader", at the Sofia Film Fest.
They intend to start shooting their movie telling the story of the Bulgarian medics, tortured by the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi in order to confess, in 2012. The working title of the film is "The Benghazi Six."
The travesty trial against the Bulgarian medics sponsored by Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was triggered by their arrest back in 1999. They spent 8 painful yars in prison and were sentenced to death twice. In July 2007, the involvement of the French Sarkozy presidential couple and the EU in the final stages of the talks, which has been deemed crucial by Bulgaria and the medics, led to their transfer to Bulgaria and release release.
Libya's former Justice Minister, who recently joined the anti-Gaddafi forces in the country, stated that not the Bulgarian medics, but the regime of leader Muammar Gaddafi was responsible for infecting more than 400 children with HIV. A Libyan official, who bought infected blood at a low price and pocketed the balance, is behind the HIV outbreak in Benghazi, according to fresh diplomatic cables, revealed by WikiLeaks.
How did you first come across the story about the Bulgarian nurses and doctor jailed in Libya, how did you even decide it can be a movie idea?
Sam Feuer (SF): It was in an Israeli newspaper. It was a two-page spread when the nurses first got convicted the second time. I think it was the time when Zdravko was found innocent. He was released and then his passport was taken away from him. I called Richard and we discussed it, and realized it was a story worth telling, and spend the next four months trying to get the facts.
Why do you think this story is worthy of a feature film? Why should the international audience or the US audience even care about some Bulgarian nurses that got jailed in Libya?
Richard Harding (RH): It is a compelling story. It is a very compelling story. It is a story of suppression, it is a story of a dictator taking advantage of people that are innocent.
When you tell these types of stories, you hope that positive things will come out of them, that they will help avoid these types of things in the future. It is important for the world to know what happened to these nurses, and to see the injustice.
SF: It is a human story, it is not a Bulgarian story. It happened to Bulgarians but it could have happened to anybody in that situation.
Are you personally convinced that the Bulgarian nurses were innocent?
SF: Absolutely. And I think that the Libyan government, or at least certain parts of the Libyan government admitted it as well.
If you look at how the regime of the Muammar Gaddafi is crumbling today in the face of a popular uprising ,do you think the international community was treating the case fairly back then? Do you think it was right for the international leaders to negotiate and make good friends with this dictator?
RH: We don't really get into politics but one thing I will tell you is that when dealing with Gaddafi you just have to very careful. Whether you agree with him or not, you have to be very careful in terms of what it is that you do.
The reason the European community has turned against him now is because he has turned against his people, he is killing his own people. The European community is just trying to help the people of Libya the best way they can.
You are still at early stage of the project but do you know already how are you going to go about the characters in the movie?
SF: I think we are going to focus on the nurses. We made a promise to the nurses to tell their story the way they wanted it to be told, to tell the truth.
We are going to focus on what they went through, and engage in all the other aspects. We have to – that's what makes the story so compelling – the whole thing: the Libyan families that suffered, the Libyan government that was using the nurses, the Bulgarians who were trying to save them, the European Union that eventually started to formulate and show support, and try to get them out. All the aspects of this story are interesting.
Have you met the nurses?
RH: We met them in 2007, and we've known them now for quite a while. And we are meeting them now again. They are coming to see our film - "The First Grader" - as part of the program of the Sofia Film Fest – which is the reason we are here.
You mentioned that we are at an early stage, which is true. That is the other reason we are here – to raise funding for the development and the making of the film itself. It is a story about these Bulgarian nurses, and we want to shoot it as much as we can, almost entirely, in Bulgaria. So we think it is very important that we get a Bulgarian investment as well.
You've had the idea to make a feature film out of the story of the Bulgarian medics jailed in Libya for several years, and your being here now must mean that you are very persistent and serious about it, is that right?
SF: Yes, and we want to start shooting next year.
What kind of funding are trying to attract – both European and American? Both public and private?
SF: Development funding at first, and then production funding.
RH: We are just looking for cash.
SF: It doesn't matter whether its coming from the government, or from the private sectors. But it does depend what is attached to that money.
RH: We have met with some government officials here, and we hope to move the private sector to raise enough money to make the film.
We just did a film with the BBC. We got money from the UK and from France so we are familiar with how that works. But we are here in Bulgaria. We believe it is best to start here and them go from there.
You have been meeting with Bulgarian politicians who were involved in the case with the jailed Bulgarian medics in Libya. Was there anybody of them who made a particular impression on you? Anything in their approaches on how they treated the whole crisis?
RH: Solomon Passy, who was the foreign minister at the time. He was very effective. He spoke very well of the process and what they did, and he was very involved, and we were very impressed with what he was able to accomplish.
There are press reports that you want to have one character to stand for all the politicians and diplomats involved?
RH: There were a lot of people involved, we just cannot show everybody.
SF: It is not going to be just one character. I also read that, I think that was a bit misinterpreted in what we intended to mean by saying what we said. Because they asked us – who's going to play this, who's going to play that. You can't have all the characters involved in this story, it's too much. We are not doing a mini-series, we are doing a movie. So we are going to have certain voices speak out in terms of groups that were involved.
Is it going to be a "black-and-white" story? Is it going to be clear-cut who is good and who is bad?
SF: No, it will be in color (laughs). I don't think we want to have it clear-cut. I think we want to leave it to the audience to decide based on the facts of what really happened.
RH: We will display the facts in the film, and the audience, like Sam said, will decide what they want to believe.
SF: And it is a movie. So you're going to start not knowing what's happening as it unfolds and develops, the characters will start realizing what's happened to them as the audience realizes as well.
Are you going to follow the actual story or will there be artistic deviations?
RH: We are going to follow it 100%.
Building on what you just mentioned, since people basically know the outcome of the story – that the Bulgarian nurses eventually survived and went home – how are you going to build a dramatic effect?
SF: It's going to be a good movie.
RH: People know what happens at the end but not everybody is familiar with what transpired to get to the end.
SF: You see movies all the time where you know the ending but because the movie is engaging and it takes you on a journey, it works very well.
A lot of people don't know what happened to the nurses, a lot of people don't know what these people went through throughout the nine years – especially the American audience – and that is the main audience we are going to target this movie to – but the rest of the world as well. They know certain aspects of it but they don't know the entire thing.
With all that said – you do appear to think that this story has the potential to be a Hollywood blockbuster, do you?
SF: Absolutely, it does have that potential. That's our intention – to make that movie that breaks the wall of Bulgarians' impressions of film making and what films are. A lot of movies are shot in Bulgaria but they are not about Bulgaria. We want to make a movie of a larger scale to show that this is a Bulgarian story.
RH: We would not be making this movie if we did not believe it would have a worldwide success.
Do you plan to use Bulgarian actors in the cast?
RH: We are going to shoot it in Bulgaria so we are going to use a Bulgarian crew.
SF: The script is not completely developed yet so once the script is developed we will have an idea. We want to get some bigger actors for the bigger roles.
There were reports mentioning names like Angelina Jolie, Geoffrey Rush, and Cate Blanchet, is that correct?
SF: Those names are still mentioned as our intention of wanting to approach them once the script is ready but we haven't discussed it with them yet.
You said you wanted it to be a Bulgarian story but you also mentioned you wanted it to be a human story. How are going to discern between the two?
RH: It is a human story.
SF: It is like the story that we tell in our movie called "The First Grader". It is about an 84-year-old man who goes to elementary school for the first time in Kenya. He is Kenyan. It is a Kenyan story.
But when you watch the movie, you don't feel like it is a Kenyan story, you feel like it can be anywhere because it is a human story, we are following the heart of this man.
RH: It is also a universal story, more than anything else. Although it is Bulgarian, people that see this movie from around the world will be affected by it. They won't think it's just Bulgarian, it's a movie for the world to see. It is a movie to be affected by. That's where the human story comes in.
SF: And there are a lot of things about it that are uniquely Bulgarian. Like the fact that Bulgaria wasn't a part of the EU when they were arrested. So there are things that are uniquely Bulgarian about it but the overall essence of the story is transcendent.
There was a lot of international involvement in the sense of civil society groups in France, Belgium etc, demanding freedom for the nurses, the "You Are Not Alone" campaign. Do you think there was a sufficient international response? Should these kinds of stories generate more of that?
RH: The international response was enough to free the nurses eventually. Hopefully, this would help in the future for a more efficient and more swift response because nine years is a long time.
They could've gotten out a lot sooner but it is what transpired. So we hope that this particular film will thinks end a lot sooner in the future.
What's your impression of Bulgaria – especially if you think of it in light of the story of the Bulgarian medics jailed in Libya?
RH: We've been here three times. We love Bulgaria, it is a wonderful country. We enjoy the place, we enjoy the people. It is a great country, we encourage many people from America to come and visit Bulgaria at least once in there lives.
SF: We are happy to see the support that us wanting to make this movie generates with the people – and not only Bulgarians – people from all around the world give us all kinds of responses via emails and on Facebook just thanking us for wanting to make this movie. That's why we think the story is going to interest a lot of people.
RH: One thing I like – I do like the fact that we have the support from the people but also from the government. They are very supportive of what we are about to do. This thought is very encouraging.
SF: We met with the leader of the opposition and with the leader of the majority party, and even though they are in opposition to one another, when it comes to this story, they both are supporting us.
RH: They don't object. And as opposition, you are supposed to be object.
SF: We are glad to bring unification.
RH: Hollywood producers unite the parties (laughs).
A lot of people in the Bulgarian governments – all three Cabinets that dealt with this crisis – were blamed for failing to react quickly enough and professionally. Is any of that going to be present in your project?
RH: We are not here to judge Bulgaria or change the facts. The story of the Bulgarian medics in Libya was something unusual for Bulgaria. The government was not used to this. It is not like in America where this happens all the time.
People try to take advantage of Americans so we are prepared to jump on things quickly.
At the time the Bulgarian medics were arrested in Libya, the Bulgarian government at the time did the best that they could with the information they had. Moving forward – will they act more efficiently? I think they have learned from their experience and they will do a great job in the future.
SF: We want to encourage people who have the ability to invest, who are investors, who have financing to step forward and to support this movie. As far as Bulgaria is concerned, it is an important movie for this country – for bringing more awareness of Bulgaria to the world. A lot of people are not aware of Bulgaria.
It is also a matter of investing in a movie. We are looking for help from everyone who can bring that kind of support to the film.
Are you getting any funding from the Bulgarian government?
SF: We can only hope. They do allot certain funds for the arts. We are just hoping they see that this is something special, something that they should step forward, and channel funds to that cause.
What sort of a budget in terms of amount do you imagine your project would need?
RH: We are looking at a USD 25 M-USD 30 M budget. It is a very moderate number, and we are hoping that we can raise the bulk of that money here in Europe.
SF: We want to make a movie that the budget is not too big because we want to show that a movie can make money, especially about Bulgarian nurses, and in the same time we want it to be a quality movie so that's the number we are looking at.
How would you describe your feature film project about the story of the Bulgarian medics jailed in Libya in three words?
RH: It's a universal film about injustice.
SF: It's thrilling, exciting story that exposes a tragedy.
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