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Interview: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov • Directors

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“Preserve the spark”


- Bulgarian filmmakers talk about The Lesson, their first feature, unveiled at Toronto and winner of the New Directors sidebar at San Sebastian

Interview: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov • Directors

Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov graduated from the National Film School in Sofia. After having several shorts selected at Clermont-Ferrand, Busan and Brussels, they directed Jump, which was one of the five short films nominated at the European Film Awards in 2013. The Lesson [+see also:
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is their first feature film.

Cineuropa: What was the biggest challenge you encountered while evolving from directing short films to directing a feature?
Kristina Grozeva:Probably the greatest challenge is to preserve the spark that has kept you in a state of constant creative tension and search from the very beginning. That spark doesn’t let you become indifferent to your mistakes, and it keeps your brain and senses awake and vigilant at all times. Routine is the greatest enemy of any creative process. It is essential to stay true to the initial urge that has pushed you to tell the story, to preserve that grain of truth that has given birth to the desire to tell it. 

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What are the most important advantages of directing movies in Bulgaria? And what about the disadvantages?
Petar Valchanov: The biggest advantage is that we have wonderful actors, great crews, amazing professionals who just love what they do. They love cinema and they are ready to work devotedly with all their heart and soul, knowing that they will not receive any money for their work at the end of it all. They even reject other work with good pay because they are so involved in developing a project they believe in.
K. G.: The biggest disadvantage is that we are surrounded by politicians and clerks who have no interest in pushing Bulgarian cinema forward. The creative spirit is constantly choked by narrow-minded intrigues and lobbying. For decades, politicians have remained completely deaf to the demands to create a cinema fund. Unfortunately, the idea that cinema is just business and industry, and that it shouldn’t be regarded as art, is becoming more and more common. 

What is your position regarding the recent controversy surrounding the controversial decision by the National Cinema Council to choose the practically unknown Bulgarian Rhapsody as the Oscar candidate, instead of Maya Vitkova’s Viktoria [+see also:
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or Milko Lazarov’s Alienation [+see also:
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P. V.: It is not the first time a situation like this has occurred in Bulgaria. The time has probably come for the rules to change and for the Bulgarian Film Academy to start choosing the Oscar candidate instead of the National Cinema Council. It will be so different when a thousand professionals choose the most deserving candidate, instead of eight or nine people who are often involved directly with the films that are being considered. It makes more sense to consider films that have seen success in Bulgaria and abroad, instead of an unreleased title.

What are your hopes for the near future? Will you continue directing together?
K. G.The Lesson is the first film in a trilogy, and we hope to shoot the second feature in 2015 or 2016. This time, we hope to pay the crew and the actors. Jump and The Lesson were both made with the help of good friends, without any state funding. At the same time, they represent Bulgaria in the rest of the world. This is why we hope that the state, represented by the National Film Center, will stop neglecting us and will finally provide us with some support.

We will continue to work together because we enjoy it and it is much more fun. We feel freer in a way, and that makes us feel more daring. We don’t think: “Oh my God, it’s all dependent on me! What if I make a mistake?” We both know that if one of us goes too far, the other will be there to make things right. We know that if one of us is hesitant, the other will boost his or her confidence, and that if you start drowning, there is someone there to pull you out. If you have a beautiful idea, the other one is always there to help you develop it. If the idea sucks, there is someone there to reject it.

If you had €5 million and had to spend all the money on one single film, what would it be about?
P. V.: We are very interested in the life of a certain Bulgarian, Assen Jordanoff, who was born in 1896. By the age of 15, he had invented a flying machine that kick-started Bulgarian aviation history. After that, he moved to the US and became an important figure in the development of global aviation. This film will certainly not cost less than €5 million, because of the historical age in which the story takes place and also because most of it will happen in the air.


international title: The Lesson
original title: Urok
country: Bulgaria, Greece
sales agent: Wide Management
year: 2014
directed by: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov
screenplay: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov
cast: Margita Gosheva, Ivan Burnev, Ivanka Bratoeva, Ivan Savov, Deya Todorova, Stefan Denolyubov

main awards/selection

San Sebastian International Film Festival 2014 
Luxembourg City Film Festival 2015
Grand Prix
Sofia International Film Festival 2015
Best Film
Brussels Film Festival 2015 
Transilvania International Film Festival 2015 
La Rochelle International Film Festival 2015 
Cinema City Film Festival Novi Sad 2015 
Bratislava International Film Festival 2015 
Tbilisi International Film Festival 2015 

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