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“In Bulgaria there is a widespread opinion that films should only entertain”

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Grigor Lefterov • Director

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- Representing the directing duo behind Hristo, an impressive Bulgarian debut feature screening in Warsaw, Grigor Lefterov chatted with Cineuropa about the challenges of social cinema

Grigor Lefterov • Director
Todor Matsanov and Grigor Lefterov on the set of Hristo

Winner of the Best First Feature award at the Golden Rose Film Festival, Hristo [+see also:
film review
interview: Grigor Lefterov
film profile
]
is currently participating in the 1-2 Competition at the 32nd Warsaw Film Festival. Grigor Lefterov directed the film together with Todor Matsanov and sat down with Cineuropa to discuss his expectations regarding its future.

Cineuropa: Let's talk about how the project was born. When did you first think about Hristo and how did both of you come to direct the feature?
Grigor Lefterov:
There are many homeless people in Bulgaria. Misery, alcohol, despair bring most of them to gradual degradation. I have always been interested in the fate of these desperate and destitute people. I remember putting a banknote in the hands of a vagrant woman who could not speak, looked awful and smelled just as bad. When I left the banknote in her palm, I saw she had a strikingly exquisite hand. She had the fingers of a pianist. This contrast stunned me. I wanted to tell just as contrasting a story, but I realised it would be a challenge for an inexperienced director like me, so I proposed the idea of a directorial collaboration to my friend and colleague Todor Matsanov. The work on the film proved I was right.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)Cine Iberoamericano Int

Dimitar Nikolov is impressive in the titular role and is surrounded by a number of powerful performances from amateur actors. How did you choose them?
We had a huge casting call for homeless people. There are few places in Sofia that give shelter to such people, but most of them participated in the auditions. We were even ready to take amateur actors for the main roles, but we couldn’t find suitable ones. On the other hand, Dimitar Nikolov and Dimitar Krumov were very impressive at the casting for amateur actors. So things all just sort of worked themselves out. Unfortunately it wasn’t difficult to convince homeless people to participate in the film. I say “unfortunately” because most of them were ready to participate only because of the modest pay and the food we provided. Very few of them were interested in the film itself.

I think that 2016 is the year of social cinema in Bulgaria, with several features exploring the underprivileged strata of Bulgarian society. Do you think Hristo will be the cause of local debate? Would you like it to be?
Of course I would like Hristo to generate debate, but I don’t think it will happen. On one hand, I have heard the opinion of my fellow directors and film critics who say it’s bad to represent Bulgaria with such gloomy films. But on the other hand, Bulgarian films don’t enjoy big audience at home. There is a widespread opinion that films should only entertain. People here in Bulgaria say: “The life we live is dark enough, we don’t need to go to the cinema and watch this kind of film.” Hristo was created to cause anxiety, not enjoyment, that’s why I don’t think there will be too many people wanting to see it.

What are the biggest advantages to directing movies in Bulgaria?
I never thought that I would use “directing movies in Bulgaria” and “advantages” in the same sentence. Like all arts that tell stories, films are also focused on the human suffering. Watching the news stories about what’s happening in Syria, we Bulgarians, should probably be happy that we at least live in peace, yet there are many poor, abandoned and suffering people in Bulgaria. So the advantage of Bulgarian directors would probably be that they can portray the suffering of these people, if they wish, in a way that could potentially help them.

The Bulgarian cinema landscape is now the process of an interesting generational shift, with many promising directors exploring genres and styles that haven’t been seen in the country before. What is your view on this?
Whenever someone talks to me about a new wave of talented filmmakers, I always think of new Romanian films. The success of several young Bulgarian directors is obvious. I have watched all their films except for Godless [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Ralitza Petrova
film profile
]
and Glory [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Petar Valchanov, Kristina G…
film profile
]
and I believe they are ready to show beautiful new films. I think the change you mentioned has started and I sincerely hope that we, the Bulgarian directors, will soon be able to create our very own 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Cristian Mungiu
interview: Oleg Mutu
film profile
]
and Child's Pose [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Calin Peter Netzer
festival scope
film profile
]
.

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