Vladan, you are a correspondent for Screen International and Cineuropa. These are some of the biggest European online platforms broadcasting international news for anything related to the movie industry.Do you have any idea how many movies you watch per year? Do you have a personal record?
I don't keep a record, but I see at least one feature film a day when I'm not at a festival. Some of these are DVD screeners of upcoming films, some are films that I have to review or interview the film-maker, and if I don't have any work-related films to watch, then I pick out something I'm interested in. At festivals I try not to watch more than three films a day, otherwise it all gets jumbled and in the end I don't know what I've seen.
Which is your last year’s top movie - both feature and short?
Feature - Turin Horse by Bela Tarr, short - Stardust by Nicolas Provost. Stardust is an amazing film and one of the rare really new approaches in short film-making.
You certainly travel a lot and have the chance to meet a lot of young filmmakers as well as some world known artists. Have you ever had the chance to interview someone you truly admire?
Last year in Berlin I interviewed Bela Tarr and he is in my top five living directors, so that was really a treat. A couple of years ago at the Motovun Film Festival I hung out with and interviewed Vibeke Windelov who was Lars von Trier's producer from Breaking the Waves (one of my all-time favourite films) to Manderlay. Being von Trier's producer must be the toughest job in the film industry. I learned more from her in these few days than from four years at the university.
Do you believe that soon we’ll have some newborn “stars” on the balkan film horizon?
We already have some. Directos such as Serbia's Nikola Lezaic (Tilva Ros), Mladen Djordjevic (Life And Death of a Porn Gang) and now Maja Milos (Clip), Slovenia's Nejc Gazvoda (A Trip), Croatia's Zvonimir Juric and Goran Devic (The Blacks), Bulgaria's Kamen Kalev and Konstantin Bojanov, not to mention the Romanians (but look out for Paul Negoescu's upcoming feature debut) made strong films that can hardly come out of another region in the world. It's an exciting time for Balkan cinema but it seems that we, the Balkan people, somehow tend to disregard it, always asking for confirmation from the West.
In your opinion what are the most distinguished features of the Balkan movies and movie business? Can you highlight some of these features?
It is hard to say that there are some features that go for all Balkan films, because although we all have some things in common, there are still big differences between individual territories. But if there is one thing to say about Balkan films, it is that they are hard to make due to mentality, laziness, irresponsibility, skewed perspective and, particularly, mentality of people that film-makers have to work with in order to finance their films. These people (government, businessmen, big companies) simply don't understand culture in general, let alone film in particular. When a producer is looking for money from a company, their first idea is that the producer wants to make a promo film for their business. But as co-production developed in western Europe in the nineties and early 2000s, they are increasingly present in the Balkans as well, and this is inevitable. All national funds in the Balkans are too small to make a film, particularly that there is practically no way to recoup the investment through cinema admissions. Examples like Mission: London and Serbia's Montevideo are incidental, and by rule general audiences just go to Hollywood blockbusters, which is why we have an increasing number of multiplexes, and if there is a local film which sells 5000 admissions, they will remove it to make room for the new Transformers sequel which will sell 50.000. This is an issue that governments have to tackle and subsidize and finance distribution and exhibition of local films, like they do in France or Scandinavia- but all that most of Balkan governments finance is the production. OK, we can make films, but what use are they if no one is going to see them? So producers have to work with their counterparts from other countries, and with Eurimages and MEDIA support, it's possible to make a film and not lose money on it.
Do you believe there is a business niche for short films on the Balkans like there is one in some of the high capacity western countries?
It will be very hard to develop such a niche because in the Balkans we don't even have any specialized art film theatres yet. Now we are in a transitional stage where old-style cinemas are dying and multiplexes are being built. Even in the West, where art film theatres are already a tradition, short films have less and less room for distribution and exhibition, TV stations are buying and screening less and less short films and the only real place to see them are festivals. The future for short films is definitely on the Internet, and it will be interesting to see how that develops- right now there are films posted on YouTube and Vimeo and similar platforms, but there is no guideline to finding them. When there is a couple of curated platforms where you can see recent short films from around the world, then there will also be a commercial interest in short films. Then maybe they will be able to go back to theatres.
Beside your work as a critic and journalist, you are also a programmer for the International Short Film Festival in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina. What’s your criteria for the film selection of the competition program?
Our criteria has been changing over the short six years that the festival has been taking place as we have been trying to build an audience in the city with only one cinema which screens only Hollywood and Serbian films. Also it's a city in the country which had a big war and the new generations don't have a proper idea about what film is and what it can be, having grown up on lousy TV series. So by now we have come down to this: we screen short films up to 20 min (or up to 30 if they're really exceptional) in the competition and we try to make a good balance between audience-friendly and more artistic films. Out of competition we screen feature fiction and documentary films which have no other way of coming to Banja Luka and we believe our audiences should see them.
Have you seen some of the latest Bulgarian titles and do you have a favorite one?
I saw a couple, I liked My Tired Father by Maya Vitkova a lot.
You are a member of “Fedeora” the fairly young Federation of Film Critics of Europe and the Mediterranean. Do you believe that the professional standards and ethics in this field change over the years?
I think the standards were getting a bit slacker because with Internet and blogging, everyone became a film critic. But now, with awareness of this fact, people from the movie business and film fans know where to go to read a quality review or critique, so I think it's slowly coming back to the old standards.
Why did you accept the invitation to be a jury member of In The Palace ISFF? What are your expectations for the festival?
I heard good things about the festival, and believe it or not, I've never been to Bulgaria before. Also it's taking place on the Black Sea in summer, so I'm sure I'm going to have a great time.
/ Valentina Bozhichkova
Snejina, you work for one of the most significant music channels in the world VH1 – NY, how long did it take you to get there and was it a hard work? Tell us more about your job..
I started at VH1 in the spring of 2005, roughly 2 years after graduating from RISD. They called me for an interview through the kind recommendation of a friend. I went to a particularly fine-arts based institution so while familiar with computers, my design and motion capabilities were limited. All of my skills in the digital arts, I have acquired at VH1. The experience, has therefore, been invaluable. It was very very hard work. I don't know how to expand on that. Only way to get anything done is through very very hard work. Bottom line. I work in the On-Air department. My job has gone through many variations. I started as a production assistant, which is a slavish position. Then moved on to do design. I currently design full show packages, all graphics related to a particular show on the channel, and most notably direct the title animations or "show opens". The more interesting part of my job is when I have the budget to shoot and direct live-action. Regular days range from going down a google tunnel for a full day to a 12 hour shoot on a Phantom camera, where we get to explode, splatter, and break all kinds of stuff and capture it in extreme slow-motion. Milk looks like silk! Squirting water looks like the Universe! It was intense.
People say that New York is a city you either conquer or it crushes you. Do you see it this way?
No one conquers New York city but it can sure crush you. I prefer the sink or swim metaphor. Basically there is no floating carelessly on the water's surface absorbing the sun rays. You paddle vigorously or you drown. You wanna float you go to California. But I'd like to underline that New York doesn't give a shit about you or anyone else. This city doesn't nurture anyone. It's tough love to love someone so wholly and with such devotion who doesn't even know you exist. I still wouldn't live anywhere else.
Do you feel like one of the successful Bulgarians across the ocean and how would you describe success?
Absolutely not. I don't think in terms of success. I find that limiting. There simply isn't an ultimate goal other than to keep going, keep thinking, creating and once in a while stumbling on a really great conversation.
How do you see yourself and your career in 20 years?
Why do you think here in Bulgaria the popular music has this “rural” dimetions and how do you feel about “Pop Folk” music? Do you think that the lack of contemporary music TV chanels affects the visual and audio quality of the music projects in Bulgaria?
I may be misunderstanding your question but are you referring to what people call "chalga" when you say that the popular music has a "rural" dimension? I don't think the phenomenon is exclusive to Bulgaria. I think, unfortunately, most people have limited access or lack the luxury to expand on their musical or visual knowledge. Their aesthetic, is therefore, informed by what is popular which is usually what appeals to the widest audience and is most easily digestible. I don't know that more music TV channels will affect the quality of programming. Who is to say what is good and what is bad on television? The only qualifiers are what is being watched and what isn't being watched. Both MTV and VH1 have severely declined in the quality of television they provide. This is my personal opinion and does not reflect the opinion of Viacom Corp. or any of its affiliates (smiling).The most obvious reason is that people with interest look to the internet to seek out what is most obscure or fresh-off-the-presses. To everyone else, music is background noise, so why bother waste time to seek it out. I am an elitest and an aesthete and therefore generally sound like a snob if I were to project my personal likes and dislikes on the subject. I'll just say, Bulgaria has "chalga", America has Britney Spears and Justin Bieber. I mean, who is to say "chalga" is bad music! Obviously it must appeal to the senses to be that popular. So then the qualifiers must stem from some sort of cultural assumptions, which is a whole different subject that gets into socio-economics...
Aside from your work in VH1, you are developing your own projects in the area of digital art. How do people accept digital art on the two sides of the Atlantic ocean?
With the internet there are no sides of the Atlantic anymore.
Tell us more about the projects you work on at the moment and about your future ideas?
I am not at liberty to speak about my VH1 projects. In my own practice, I have been working on a series of sculptures that I am continuing to develop. Also I just came back from Dubai with a lot of super-8 footage that I am starting to cut together. I make a lot of art videos as well as traditional music videos. Recently I made the tour video projections for my friends' band, Lemonade. A huge chunk of those came together out of old super-8 footage I shot on the Black Sea over the past few years. I was wondering what to do with all that footage when I first got it and here was a perfect opportunity. Its a very pretty, summery album with a lot of water imagery so the audio and visuals came together beautifully. My philosophy is you always have to be working, so when an amazing opportunity presents itself, you already have momentum and are totally ready to pick it up.
Why did you accept the invitation to be a jury member of In The Palace ISFF? What are your expectations for the festival?
I am simply honored! How could I decline?! But I have no expectations. Life has taught me that if I were to come with expectations, I shall be disappointed. I love Bulgaria, I love being in Bulgaria, and I seek any excuse to go to Bulgaria. This one affords me the opportunity to see some potentially great films and meet some potentially awesome people. Its a win win.
How often do you travel to Bulgaria and which is the place you always come back to?
I try to visit once a year. My grandmothers are what I always like to come back to. Luckily one lives in Plovdiv which is the place I always like to come back to.
Do you feel like the Bulgarians have an unique national feature that makes them different from the rest of the world? What is it?
First and foremost, I must admit to the fact that I have always identified with being Bulgarian despite the fact that America has been my home for 20 years. It has been very beneficial to appear so in every aspect of life. The reason for that is probably because the country itself is steeped in relative obscurity and a shroud of mystery to most Americans which gives us a lot of freedom for reinvention. If it's Bulgarian, the immediate assumption is that it's obscure, mysterious and steeped in tradition. Those are very enticing qualities to an expectant audience. There is also what my friends like to refer to as the "eastern constitution", which basically means we work like mules.
/ Valentina Bozhichkova
10% Sold! or POST-FESTIVAL REFLECTION
In the Ninth edition of the International Short Film Festival IN THE PALACE, films of six continents competed for the gold of Balchik. Within the separately organized market of the film industry - FILMER FORGE MARKET 1/10 of them were sold.
Trains, which won the award for Best Bulgarian Film at the IN THE PALACE '2011 ISFF entered into the largest catalog of short films and will be distributed online via the iTunes platform. Distributor of the film is the world's leading distribution company Shorts International LTD. The company get familiar the US, European and Asian audience with the best titles from the world of Short Film - a format that is gaining greater market share in the film niche.
"Trains was sold to Short International LTD and they are distributors for America, Asia, Africa and several other places. The film will be on iTunes and on their website www.shortsinternational.com, but will be broadcasted on American televisions as well. I am very pleased with how things are going on, because we invested very little money and didn't expect such success. Now I keep going to festivals with Trains and meanwhile I managed to finish my new film."
- Pavel Vesnakov, Trains
Besides the Bulgarian movie Trains, Shorts International LTD will distribute the film Red In the Water, dir. Mikel Gurrea. The film was nominated for Best International Film and Mikel left Balchik with a Special Mention for Cinematography and Production Design.
"Thanks to IN THE PALACE, Linda O. Olszewski, from Shorts International, has optioned to acquire Red In The Water to be distributed on iTunes around the globe. IN THE PALACE is what every short film festival should be: a celebration of cinema. From the organizers to the contestant filmmakers, the festival provides an instant sense of gathering, joy and collaboration. I will never forget my time at the 9th IN THE PALACE, because my film, Red In The Water got a very positive response and was awarded with a Special Mention Of The Jury, because I got very valuable comments and critiques from fellow colleagues and, among everything, because I met people that I now consider friends. "
- Mikel Gurrea, Red In The Water
Russian TV channel egoist.tv, specialized in broadcasting the world's best short films in Russia, the CIS and Baltic states, after the festival in Balchik bought the films The Good Neighbor directed by Ivan Mitov (nominated for Best Bulgarian Film) and the Swedish film Out of Erasers directed by Erik Rosenlund. The films authorized for distribution by egoist.tv will be broadcasted on their pay TV channel and mobile as well as on the internet network and public non-commercial screenings.
The industry film market FILMER FORGE MARKET is a separate and complete event during IN THE PALACE ISFF, funded by EA NFC (Executive Agency National Film Centre), which represents institutions and organizations involved in financing, development and distribution of film projects and services. The market which aims to support and promote short film genre, consists of three main modules: Pitching sessions; Educational initiatives and Film Market: commercial area, market for finished films, informational meetings, presentations and more.
Please stay tuned for updates and get ready for the 2012 FILMER FORGE!
9th IN THE PALACE, 2011 | Impressions
9th IN THE PALACE 2011 delegates sharing their festival experience.
camera & images: Alexander Acosta Osorio
interviews: Alexander Acosta Osorio & Sylvia Zareva