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Tonislav Hristov • Regista di The Last Seagull

“Il mio film ritrae un uomo che non è trattato bene dalle donne, qualcosa che non vediamo spesso sullo schermo”


- Il regista bulgaro rivela alcuni dettagli su un fenomeno sociale emerso sul litorale bulgaro negli ultimi decenni del comunismo

Tonislav Hristov  • Regista di The Last Seagull

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Tonislav Hristov’s documentary The Last Seagull [+leggi anche:
intervista: Tonislav Hristov
scheda film
, currently showing in the international competition of the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival, focuses on a flirtatious male type known in Bulgaria as a “seagull”, who hits on foreign tourists during their summer holidays at the seaside. Hristov explains the relationship he forged with his main character as well as the connection between this film and his previous works.

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Cineuropa: The “seagull” figure typically has a romantic association attached to it in Bulgaria; however, your seagull is portrayed in a more realistic light. Through your film, we realise that these guys are kind of like male prostitutes.
Tonislav Hristov:
I would not call it prostitution, because they did not rely on being fully supported by women; this was happening on a seasonal basis. Starting in communist times, they were mostly beach lifeguards who had sporadic relationships with foreign tourists for decades. Let’s call them paid male companions. Some of them tried to marry abroad and start a family, while others had children, as in the case of my main character, Ivan. During the regime, when it was difficult for Bulgarians to travel to the West, this was their connection with the outside world. And their behaviour and goals were an open secret back then. The excerpts I included from Hristo Kovachev’s short documentary Seagulls (1977), shot with a hidden camera, prove that. I’ve heard many curious stories from my father about how handsome local guys would spend their summers on the Black Sea coast, at foreign women’s expense.

How come Ivan let you get so close to his world and agreed to share such intimate stories?
He appears in my previous film The Good Postman [+leggi anche:
scheda film
, which was shot in the village of Golyam Dervent, close to the Turkish border, and at that time, he was in a relationship with a Ukrainian woman. When you put them together – this film, The Good Postman and my fiction debut, The Good Driver – they form a sort of trilogy about men having a mid-life crisis, who are not very sure about what to do with their lives. I found Ivan to be a very interesting person, and we became closer. I wondered how he made a living, as he was not working much apart from sporadic jobs, such as the one at the car wash documented in the film. Then, I noticed that he was surrounded by women all the time, and it turned out that during summer, when he was working as a lifeguard, he was also financially supported by some of them. For the younger lifeguards, this is not so common.

Probably because they belong to a younger generation and did not live through the times of scarcity in Bulgaria.
Absolutely. The older ones were quite happy with small gifts, such as Nivea sun cream or Toblerones, because during communism, those Western goods could only be found in the special Corecom shops, where ordinary Bulgarians could not buy them, because the currency used there was only foreign. And the people living along the coast were better connected with the outside world; they were more in touch with the West, despite the overall isolated status of Bulgaria behind the Iron Curtain.

Looking at the bigger picture, Ivan could be viewed as a metaphor for Bulgarian society, which tends to expect external forces to determine its destiny.
Yes, this is one of the layers. I am from Northwest Bulgaria, where the unemployment rate is very high, and many people feel unrealised and betrayed. This syndrome can also be observed there – living standards are poor, but people are also unsatisfied with the realistic options they have, and they prefer to wait for some imaginary resolutions to their problems or to blame external factors. The other layer is rather existential, as it becomes clear that, sooner or later, one has to take responsibility for one’s own life. A third layer is related to the overall situation in Europe – making a living in the increasingly depopulated small settlements is not easy anywhere.

There are some controversial scenes in which Ivan is not shown in his best light. How did he react to the film?
He saw some excerpts and liked them; he also trusted me. I consider him a positive character and tried to show him as such. My film portrays a man who is not treated well by women – something we don’t see often on screen. He’s been disappointed by all of the relationships in his life, and that’s why he claims he hates women in the scene when we see him drunk. But he’s actually deeply wounded.

Are you planning to continue your observations on men in the midst of mid-life crises?
Not really; I am changing direction. Soon, at CPH:DOX, I will be pitching my new project,, on fake news.

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