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“It’s about the real lives of people, not just another film about communism”

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Stephan Komandarev • Director


- A guest at the Bulgarian Film Festival in Rome, Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev talked to us about his latest film, The Judgement

Stephan Komandarev  • Director

Bulgarian director, producer and screenwriter Stephan Komandarev has written a number of films and documentaries, including The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner [+see also:
film profile
, the first Bulgarian film to have been nominated for an Oscar in 2010. His latest feature film, The Judgement [+see also:
film review
interview: Stephan Komandarev
film profile
, which is being screened at the 8th Bulgarian Film Festival in Rome (25-31 May), tells the story of the troubled relationship between Mityo, an unemployed widower, and his son Vasko, against the backdrop of the economic crisis and illegal migration flows.

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Cineuropa: What made you decide to tell this story?
Stephan Komandarev: In 2002-2003 I started exploring this very special area in south-eastern Bulgaria, on the border with Greece and Turkey, and shot three documentaries there. I spent years in the area and gathered a lot of true stories. What really interested me is that 25 years previously, during communism, a lot of Bulgarians, but also lots of people from other former communist states such as East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, crossed the border and headed towards Greece and Turkey in search of freedom, and today the same border sees waves of people going the other way, using Bulgaria as a doorway to the promised land that is the European Union. 

So the idea for the film came out of these documentaries…
For me it was important to portray the reality of life in this part of Bulgaria, where people are very poor. Sofia, a big city, is completely different. As opposed to the capital, this part of Bulgaria is one of the poorest in the country, with deserted villages, destroyed churches… So in 2008, we started writing the screenplay. It took us several years, 12 draft scripts, and two screenplay programmes, one in Poland and one in Greece, before we finally got the film made.

The Judgement is a story about immigration and the economic crisis, but it is also about the reconciliation of a man with his son and his past. How did you end up combining all these elements?
All the characters in my film are real, including their names. Even the rock known as “The judgement” is real, it lies on the border with Greece. The locals told me that to this day the bones and belongings of the people who were thrown off the cliff can be found at its base. For me it was important not to end up making yet another film about communism, because we’ve already made lots of those, I think this was the best way of talking about it. I thought it would be better to show how communism and the past influence our current lives. Over the last 25-30 years of transition towards democracy, we’ve seen the same people, or their relatives, in power. 

In the film, it’s a financial institution and its ruthless system that causes the protagonist to turn to illegality. Did you also want to highlight how this is part of the problem?
There are adverts for credit institutions on TV all the time, encouraging people to take out loans. Loans which people cannot repay, especially in times of crisis, causing them to lose their houses, everything. The same thing happens in America and all over Europe, it’s part of the consumer society: take the money and use it now, then we’ll see what happens. I wanted to show the opposite. On the TV you see happy people applying for loans and buying things, but reality is very different.

A few days ago a bilateral protocol on film co-production was signed between Italy and Bulgaria? What do you make of it?
I think it’s very positive. In periods of austerity, when the first costs that are cut relate to culture, co-production is the only way to survive in Europe. In Bulgaria we have a law on cinema that works; the Bulgarian Film Center holds four sessions a year for minority co-productions. I hope the procedure in Italy is just as clear.

Where will we be able to next see The Judgement?
The film has participated in various festivals and has won a number of awards. It has already been released in Bulgaria, and has been nominated in all categories for Bulgarian film awards. It’s already been purchased for distribution in Germany, Greece, Macedonia, Croatia and France, and in September i twill be screened in the United Kingdom at the Raindance Film Festival.

(Translated from Italian)

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