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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2019 New Directors

Svetla Tsotsorkova • Director of Sister

“It was easy to be real because everything we show is real; we just had to film it”


- Sister, the sophomore film by Bulgaria’s Svetla Tsotsorkova, is a solid step forward in her interesting career; it is currently taking part in the New Directors section of San Sebastián

Svetla Tsotsorkova  • Director of Sister
(© Lorenzo Pascasio)

Bulgarian filmmaker Svetla Tsotsorkova already knows what it’s like to compete in the New Directors section of the San Sebastián Film Festival: she visited the city four years ago to present Thirst [+see also:
film review
interview: Svetla Tsotsorkova
film profile
. Now she is back with Sister [+see also:
film review
interview: Svetla Tsotsorkova
film profile
, a story of three women struggling to survive in circumstances that are by no means easy to cope with.

Cineuropa: One might think that making a second feature is easier than the first; is that the case?
Svetla Tsotsorkova:
I think every film is difficult for the artist behind it. When we made Thirst, the budget was more or less €300,000, and it was tricky to make with that amount of money. And then we said, “Ok, now the debut is done, so the next film will be made with more money, and we will work more comfortably and with more flexibility.” But we didn’t get any financial support, apart from what we got from the Doha Film Institute, which stepped in for the post-production. But actually, we did the shooting of the film with friends. So, all in all, it was rather uncomfortable.

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In the beginning, the lies told by Rayna, the main character, are kind of funny, but as things develop, it becomes more complicated and difficult to empathise with her. How did you manage to give this complex character so many different layers?
I think it’s all in the script [written by Tsotsorkova and her regular collaborator, Bulgarian filmmaker Svetoslav Ovtcharov] – for me, it is very important. The dynamic of the character is all written in the script, so if you can find all of that on the screen as well, then it’s mission accomplished.

The place where the women live and work feels so alive and so real. How did you manage to make it feel like that?
The house is very close to where we live. It was very suitable because it was on a crossroads, and it was covered with bushes and trees. When we were cleaning the house, we thought it might not be worth it to put so much work and money into rebuilding everything. But as soon as we entered the room with the two windows and the cars passing by, we saw that it was worth it. And it was easy to be real because everything we show is real; it is there, and we just had to film it.

The lives of these three women are very much conditioned by sexism and the violence perpetrated by men. Did you intend to make a statement about the situation of women in your country?
Well, every family is different, and we wanted to tell a story about relationships between people, between three women and one man. I wouldn’t call it a statement; it was just about discovering how a dysfunctional family works. Their life is tough, and their relationships are also tough.

The film highlights other social issues, such as police corruption and emigration. What was your intention in showing these elements?
I guess it is just part of the life we live. We wanted these social issues to be part of the environment of the film. They came up while we were exploring the characters’ relationship. Of course, the movie tries to portray real life, even though it’s a fiction film.

The evolution of Milo’s character is interesting, as he starts off as a very tough and unlikeable man, only to end up exuding decency and humanity. How did you create such a complex personality for him?
We were lucky enough to get Asen Blatechky, a superb actor who immediately understood the dialogue, the dynamics and the complexity of the character. Everything was very easy with him.

This complexity is especially visible in Rayna, aided by a great performance by Monika Naydenova. How was it working with her?
She was one of the four main actors in Thirst. We shot Thirst, and we decided that since we had this magnetic, non-professional actress, who is so great to work with and so natural in front of the camera, we had to write this script. It was easy because we knew the cast, but trying to finance the film wasn’t that easy. And we had two options: either to wait for four or five years, by which time Monika would have grown up and we would have had to look for another girl; or to do what we did and convince all of them to make the film as friends.

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