Mina Mileva, Vesela Kazakova • Directors of Cat in the Wall
“We wanted to create a bridge between the East and the West to check if the grass was greener on the other side”
- We chatted to Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova, who are showing their first fiction feature, Cat in the Wall, at Sarajevo after a world premiere at Locarno
Bulgarian directorial duo Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova tackle fiction for the first time in their third feature, Cat in the Wall [+see also:
interview: Mina Mileva, Vesela Kazakova
film profile], now competing at the Sarajevo Film Festival after a Locarno world premiere. Here is what they have to say about their troubled past as documentary filmmakers and the challenges of working outside their native country.
Cineuropa: After two documentaries, you’ve switched to fiction. What did you like most about making a fiction feature?
Mina Mileva: We’ve encountered a number of hurdles with our documentaries. They are not shown by the Bulgarian public broadcaster, which actually was a co-producer on both of them. Moving to fiction was necessary both from a creative point of view and as а means of survival. Documentary making is harder and more uncertain. In fiction, the process cannot be sabotaged, and there aren’t any heavy consequences to endure.
You advertise the film as being “based on real events”. What is real and what is fiction in your film?
MM: Almost everything in the story happened in reality. We did not want to spoil the absurd reality of it with fictitious additions. Our fellow Bulgarians keep moaning about the terrible situation in Bulgaria and about the corruption. Yes, there is corruption in Bulgaria, but let’s see what’s happening in Britain on the same level. As in our documentary The Beast Is Still Alive [+see also:
film profile], we wanted to create a bridge between the East and the West to check if the grass was greener on the other side.
Your protagonist is a Bulgarian architect who cannot find work as an architect in London. What about the challenges of being Bulgarian directors living in London?
MM: Being a Bulgarian director in the United Kingdom turned out to be less challenging than being a Bulgarian director in Bulgaria. The British climate is welcoming. It really doesn’t matter where you come from, or how good or bad your English is, as long as you deliver. There are other frustrations, such as the incredibly sexist film environment and the fact that you cannot survive as an independent director, no matter where you come from. In Bulgaria, it’s easier to survive as an independent director.
Vesela Kazakova: I like Bulgaria, and I don’t plan to stay away forever. Since founding our production company, Activist38, we’ve worked abroad and have created international contacts. We’ve been supported several times by the Creative Europe MEDIA programme, and that helped us survive. After the craziness that followed the release of our documentary Uncle Tony, Three Fools and the Secret Service, I learned first-hand that I had to try to work internationally.
How did you share directorial duties on set?
MM: Directing is a combative activity. You need a mate to bounce energies, duties and challenges off. I’m more timid and less experienced on set, and my forte as a visual artist comes in handy when composing scenes and points of view, drawing sketches and storyboards, or writing and re-writing scenes. Vesela is very much involved with the actors, emotions and the way the acting comes across. We are a small crew and have to cover everything together. It was an intense and demanding process, and I can’t possibly imagine being alone there.
VK: With Mina, we make fast decisions when it is good for the film. It is sometimes challenging on set, but we’re lucky to have a professional and flexible crew – for example, our cameraman Dimitar Kostov, our editor Donka Ivanova and our London-based sound editor Georgi Marinov.
Five years ago, Cineuropa published a letter of support (read it here) after your documentary Uncle Tony, Three Fools and the Secret Service caused some problems for you in Bulgaria. Are things better now?
MM: Thanks to Cineuropa, EAVE, EDN Bulgaria and others, the authorities eased the pressure, but things are not “better” now, exactly. We made our first documentary and our fiction debut without any support from the Bulgarian National Film Center. Luckily, our second fiction feature is being supported as a low-budget production by the centre.
The Bulgarian Ministry of Culture doesn’t even try to cater for international acclaim and recognition. Locarno winner Ralitza Petrova was refused development support for her second film three times, while directors working only for the domestic market receive millions of leva. That has become the norm in recent years. But Bulgaria isn’t a big market, and those domestic productions don’t manage to achieve good box-office figures either. We all patiently tolerate this situation by going abroad and begging co-producers for support. The truth is that there isn’t enough for everybody who wants to try their hand at directing, but there could be a wiser policy for distributing the finances.
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