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LECCE 2019

Dragomir Sholev • Director of The Pig

“When you leave school, you realise that aggression is everywhere”


- Bulgarian director Dragomir Sholev talks to us about his second feature film, The Pig, which was screened in competition at the 20th Lecce European Film Festival

Dragomir Sholev • Director of The Pig

Eight years after his multi-award-winning work Shelter [+see also:
film profile
, the Bulgarian filmmaker Dragomir Sholev is bringing his second full-length title, The Pig [+see also:
film review
interview: Dragomir Sholev
film profile
, to the big screen. We met with him at the 20th Lecce European Film Festival - where the film is competing – to discuss his gritty and unrelenting story about bullying.

Cineuropa: Is there an autobiographical element to the film?
Dragomir Sholev: It all started with a photograph: I was looking at an old class photo, trying to remember the names of my classmates. I could remember all of them, except for one huge boy with thick glasses. Although I could also remember what we did to him… So, you could say the idea for the film was born out of a sense of guilt. Later, when I had to change schools, I was a victim of bullying myself. Then I spoke with other people who’d gone through the same thing and realised that it’s a very common phenomenon. In my mind, it was an archetypal story that needed to be told. The things which happen in the film didn’t actually take place in real life, but this is what goes on all the time.

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Is bullying a topic that’s often talked about in Bulgaria?
I didn’t realise it was such a sensitive subject in our society. When we presented the film at the Sofia Film Festival, a lot of journalists came forward to ask me questions. I also came into contact with Unicef, who led an anti-bullying campaign, which we collaborated on. It’s so sensitive a topic that people have started asking questions without even having seen the film. This frightened me a bit - I was worried that the subject would engulf the film.

It’s the type of film that should be shown in schools.
It’s a film for youngsters, but also for teachers and parents, because it talks about a boy who’s isolated, rejected by society, alone. His parents work abroad, and he lives with his grandmother. He doesn’t have a good relationship with his teachers who don’t understand his problems. The police aren’t willing to intervene, all the institutions involved are under-prepared, and he’s left alone to find his own way through it all. I think this is the case for so many young people his age. Some are unable to cope, and they need to be supported.

Can you talk to us about the stylistic choices you made? The audience is very close to the protagonist at all times; in the first part, especially, it’s like being in a nightmare.
I wanted to create a first-person experience. I wanted the camera to remain close to the character, almost unnaturally so, in order to feel his breath and his emotions. I wanted to create physical moments, for the audience to see him sweat, to observe his transformation from human to animal. There’s a moment where he howls like a wolf.

What was it like directing such a young boy in such a delicate role?
I was lucky to find Rumen Georgiev. In my mind, spontaneity is an important quality in an actor, and he is very spontaneous; he’s himself. Many of the film’s scenes were shot in a single take. Most of the time, we didn’t prepare beforehand, I positioned the camera and gave Rumen a few instructions, but, other than that, we didn’t know what would happen.

The character has the same name as the actor who plays him. Why is this?
I wanted to use his naturalness and to convince him that the story of The Pig was also his story.  Rumen had lived through similar experiences in his old school. We follow his story up-close, but we never actually hear his name. In the end, when he’s ready to speak out about the problem, we finally get to know him as a person.

The film is divided into two very distinct parts.
The first part is dominated by the time he spends at school, which represents his external life. The second part is the forest, which represents his inner life. It’s a forest which is close to the city, it’s almost mythical. It’s where he puts his fears to the test; where we discover his needs, his emotions. The forest is a way for the audience to get into his head.

During his escape, the boy meets various people, including the restaurant waiter who is himself bullied by his boss. Is this some kind of game of mirrors?
I studied the concept of aggression; from the type you see in innocent children to that of their teachers: theirs is a psychological aggressiveness. Then, when you leave school, you realise that aggression is everywhere, even in police officers with all their sarcasm; and in the case of the restaurant owner and the waiter, it turns into violence. Another point worth highlighting is how much this boy needs his parents. It’s the basis of the story; it wouldn’t be the same if his parents lived nearby. Their absence is what drives his need to speak to somebody.

There was an eight-year gap between your first and your second feature film. Do you plan on waiting another eight years before releasing your next project?
I really hope not. I’m working on my third feature film and, if all goes to plan, we’ll begin shooting in September. It won’t have youngsters as protagonists: with The Pig, I’m drawing a line under a certain period in my life; I’ve told children’s stories, mostly for those around the 12-year-mark, over the course of six films. Now I’m ready to talk about something else.

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(Translated from Italian)

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