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“My decision to move in a more fictional direction was primarily a moral one”

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Ilian Metev • Director

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- Bulgaria's Ilian Metev talks about a drastic move in his career: switching from documentary to fiction in 3/4

Ilian Metev • Director
(© Locarno Festival / Marco Abram)

Ilian Metev’s documentary feature Sofia’s Last Ambulance [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
was met with enthusiasm in 2012, and now the young director has impressed with his feature-length fiction debut 3/4 [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ilian Metev
film profile
]
, which was awarded with the Golden Leopard in the Filmmakers of the Present section of the 70th Locarno Film Festival. Below he talks to Cineuropa about what determined him to switch from documentary to fiction, but also about the most urgent issue in the Bulgarian cinema landscape.

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Cineuropa: You initially planned for 3/4 to be a documentary. What convinced you that it would be better suited to fiction instead?
Ilian Metev: I was interested in a contemporary family story and felt that a documentary would be too exploitative. As a documentary filmmaker you are capable of taking “things” from people, “things” revealing their innermost character, “things” they might not be aware of sharing despite a formal agreement. A filmmaker’s responsibility is therefore immense and my decision to move in a more fictional direction was primarily a moral one. Funnily enough, during the actual process of making 3/4, I felt a similar responsibility towards the portrayal of my protagonists. Once finished with the final cut, I’m always nervous about how my protagonists will respond to the finished film. I am very happy that they all loved it.

What changes do you have to make in your mind-set as a director in order to move from documentary to fiction?
As a fictional director you are responsible for creating the world of your film. In documentary you can capture the complexity of real life by observing reality, by being patient and attentive. Here we had to work hard to create an environment and situations that would feel credible. I paid particular attention to the contradictions in our scenes, as I believe that they are an integral part of everyday life. How often do joy and sadness exist next side-by-side.

Mila plays the piano and dreams about moving to Germany. You studied violin in Germany. How much of yourself is in your characters?
The initial screenplay was closely based on my biography and on people I intimately know. We therefore also looked for people with similar backgrounds. Yet we never showed the screenplay to our protagonists. I did not want to affect their interpretation of the film and change their personalities. The events in the final film are similar to the screenplay, yet the dynamics between the characters are different and I believe closer to the real life of our protagonists. Of course, I made certain decisions during the casting process; I can closely relate to Mila’s artistic doubts, to Todor’s scientific curiosity and Niki’s interest in the unpredictable, yet the film is a result of our collaboration.

Young Niki Mashalov acts very naturally in your film. How did you find working together?
My assistant director Nikolay Hristov and I worked very closely with the entire cast. Niki’s energy comes completely from him. He’s also a very sensitive soul so it took him some time to loosen up. After he warmed up to the entire crew, he was unstoppable.

Bulgarian directors are requesting that legislation is changed in your country. What is the most urgent issue to be solved in the Bulgarian film industry?
I think that the national fund should support a more balanced variety of projects. It is not right that people like Kamen Kalev and Ralitza Petrova, who have powerful creative voices and are highly recognised internationally, have to struggle so much with their new projects, even at a developmental level. The selection committee has to consist of people who have a broad and competent understanding of contemporary cinema and who mean well, regardless of who knows whom.

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