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Zornitsa Sophia • Director of Mother

“What inspires me is the way they turned their trauma into triumph”


- We talked to the Bulgarian director about her new film, the inspiration for her story, gratitude and urging the audience to do good

Zornitsa Sophia • Director of Mother
(© Petya Nikolova)

Director and actress Zornitsa Sophia, who has so far specialised in stories on powerful women or women who are soon to discover their true power, took her newest feature Mother [+see also:
film review
interview: Zornitsa Sophia
film profile
to its national premiere at the 40th Golden Rose Film Festival. Here is what she had to say about the inspiration for her story, gratitude and urging the audience to do good.

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Cineuropa: Can you tell us how you decided to write and direct this film inspired by the work of Elena Panayotova?
Zornitsa Sophia:
I believe that there is always a way, no matter the difficulties, and when you find your way, it could become even bigger than your original dream. Mother is inspired by my friend Elena [Panayotova], on whom I shot the documentary Modus Vivendi back in 2006, but it is a fiction story, and many scenes in the script depict events that happened to me while doing research in Africa. What inspires me in Elena’s life as well as in the life of one other real character in the story, Mili, is the way they turned their trauma into triumph.

On the gates of the orphanage in your film, we see a list of the values of the establishment. When you were developing the script, were there any values you wanted to focus on in Mother?
For me, there are two ways to approach parenthood: the desire to have a baby, which involves a sense of possession, versus the decision to become a parent, which involves a commitment to giving and to contributing to one, to many, to the world. That’s where it started.

While watching the film, we feel ashamed of our comfortable lives. Was that intentional?
I felt ashamed in Africa, too, not only because of my so-called comfortable life, but because I did not appreciate it enough. The people of Kibera have so much gratitude for being alive and for every single little thing – I can’t help but respect them. I believe that, despite living in “developed countries”, we can easily end up quite unhappy because we are so reluctant to feel grateful. When I found out that a friend from the slum, Peter, owns and rents flats in downtown Nairobi, I asked him why he doesn’t live there and why he prefers a hut with no door in the slum. Peter answered: “Why should I live in a big apartment with a big refrigerator in order to eat old, packaged food alone?” It’s quite a shocking portrait of us, don’t you agree?

Can you talk about the idea of “togetherness” that is so important for your film? Would you say Mother is a call to action?
Thank you so much for that description. I would love Mother to have this effect on people – it really did on us. I am now trying to find financing to start an art programme for the talented Romani children in the village we shot in. We invited two of them along for the premiere here at Golden Rose, and they saw the sea – and dolphins! – for the first time. They watched our movie on a twenty-metre-wide screen and took a bow for the audience. The movie talks about the importance of having dreams and following your dreams. I feel happy that we fulfilled a dream for these two kids. I hope Mother will urge viewers to ask themselves, “What can I do?” This would be a dream come true for me.

The sense of community in Kibera, the sense of togetherness – “ushirika” in Swahili – is massive. An orphanage was partly destroyed during the rainy season, and 12 orphans were immediately hosted by nearby families. Can you imagine your neighbours giving you a few orphans temporarily as they rebuild the second floor of their building? Our small, family-like cast and crew on Mother is an example of ushirika, too. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been possible to complete the shoot in 20 days on two continents.

What is next for you as a director, producer or actress?
I hope my next feature, the final part of my duology on “alternative motherhood”, the dramedy 3 Kilograms of Happiness, will receive financing soon. I am also developing a limited TV series based on the best-selling book by Nicos Panayotopoulos The Gene of Doubt. I will also produce three projects by my students.

Do you have any comment to make about the fact that Mother was selected as Bulgaria's Oscar representative and was later disqualified?
I am truly honoured that Mother was the original choice as the Bulgarian submission for next year’s Academy Awards; it’s the second time a film of mine has been selected to represent the country, after Mila from Mars. But I couldn’t celebrate it, because of a family issue which was still an issue days later, when the Academy found that the English dialogue in my film exceeded the maximum allowed by five minutes. These are the rules of the Academy; I accept them, and I wish the best of luck to the Bulgarian film [In the Heart of the Machine by Martin Makariev] that will represent the country.

In any case, I have discovered that Mother speaks the language of the heart. This was proven by the “Committee of the Public” at our premiere at the festival, where the audience welcomed us with standing ovations and eyes full of tears. This fills my heart with gratitude and makes me hope that the film works as a call to action.

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