Lachezar Avramov • Director of A Picture with Yuki
“Seeing the reality we are so used to through the eyes of a foreigner was really tempting”
- We chatted to Lachezar Avramov, a Bulgarian director whose film A Picture with Yuki has just won a Special Mention at this year’s Golden Rose Film Festival
Bulgarian director Lachezar Avramov’s first feature, A Picture with Yuki [+see also:
interview: Lachezar Avramov
film profile], had its world premiere in the main competition of the Sofia International Film Festival in March, and has just been competing at the 37th Golden Rose Film Festival, a gathering organised by the Bulgarian National Film Center as a showcase of the best and newest local films. Here is what Avramov had to say about working with amateur actors and actresses from the Roma community, and about the never-before-seen mix of energies in his film.
Cineuropa: How did you come to direct this first collaboration between Bulgaria and Japan?
Lachezar Avramov: Well, the film wasn’t planned as a co-production with Japan when we started. Actually, when Kiki Sugino and Kosuke Ono [the Japanese co-producers of the movie] read the script, they really loved it, and the idea to co-produce the film actually came from them. We started working on the project about seven years ago... A bit too long for a movie, but that's life. I read the short story by Miroslav Penkov that the film is based on practically the same day as his book hit the shelves, and I just fell in love with the story and the characters. I contacted Miroslav, then [co-writer] Dimitar Stoyanovich joined the project, and we started working on the script. And seven years later, here we are!
You worked with non-professional actors from the Roma community. How did you work together?
The actors, of course, were a real challenge. We knew from the very beginning that the specifics of the story wouldn’t allow us to work with professional actors for most of the parts. Here, it’s really important to mention our casting director, Jovana Ilieva. She did an amazing job, and a huge part of the overall feel and look of the film we owe to her. But it was a really hard process. We had endless rehearsals with the main characters, and for me, personally, the non-professional actors represent the biggest success of the movie.
As for the Japanese female protagonist, do you think that we better understand ourselves when we see ourselves through the eyes of someone from a different culture? Or do we perhaps become blind to the things we see every day?
The character was Japanese in the original short story. Actually, it is a bit autobiographical for Miroslav [Penkov], as he is married to a Japanese woman in real life. But I loved this strange mixture from the very beginning: a Bulgarian man married to an Asian girl in a village full of Gypsies. It felt really unusual, and the possibilities were endless. The clash of cultures, of perspectives… The fact that we react differently to similar problems only because of our upbringing, no matter if we are “good people” or not. And of course, seeing the reality we are so used to through the eyes of a foreigner was really tempting.
Your film was shown at Sofia in March, and then it was released in Bulgaria in April. Would you say it sparked a debate on Bulgarian society’s prejudice against the Roma community?
Actually, I’m incredibly happy that the audience was able to see through the “social conflict” of the story and look at the real theme of the movie. Of course, some of the reactions were, “This is Gypsy propaganda” and “You made Bulgarians look bad,” but most people I had the chance to speak to were really moved by the true heart of the film and what it’s really about: forgiveness, humility and, most of all, losing our connection with God. The fact that the film made people think is without a doubt a big compliment for me as filmmaker.
How would you describe the process of making a first feature in Bulgaria?
Making films is really, really hard. There is this idea that most people have that shooting a movie is a light-hearted, fun and joyful experience, filled with promiscuous actresses and parties. In actual fact, it’s the absolute opposite: an endless struggle with time, weather, people in various moods and problems of all sorts. It’s a very complicated and precise process that requires immense concentration, and both physical and psychological strength. I think that anyone who’s ever been on a movie set for more than a day will confirm this.
Are you developing a new feature? Could you describe the story?
At the moment, we are working once again with Dimitar Stoyanovich on two projects: Yellow Oleander and Terrorists. The first is a very “humble” black comedy – just four actors and one set. I really hope we’ll be able to find funding by the end of the year and start shooting in early spring. As for Terrorists, I think it’s by far the most serious script we have written so far. It’s a historical piece set at the beginning of the 20th century in Thessaloniki, Greece. It’s based on true events surrounding the blowing up of the Ottoman Bank – the first definitive act of terrorism in Europe. It’s a really interesting and large-scale project, but I’m afraid that finding the funding will take a very long time.
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