Bulgaria’s public film funding crisis is threatening to derail a nascent new wave of directors and producers achieving success at home and abroad.
Public funding — which for the past 20 years has aspired to back around 15 projects a year but only actually had enough money for half that number — hit the wall late last year when a government austerity budget slashed spending for the next three years.
Kamen Kalev, director of “The Island,” one of two Bulgarian films in official selection at Cannes, experienced this first-hand. Kalev, whose film is playing in Directors’ Fortnight, said he had been promised $650,000 by the Bulgarian Film Center.
“We were told that we could either postpone shooting until the next financial year or get half now and half later,” Kalev said.
It was too late to delay production, but the failure to receive all the money on time led to threats of lawsuits, crew strikes and added stress during last year’s nine-week shoot.
Co-funded by Sweden’s Film i Vast, the film focuses on an expat Bulgarian who undergoes an identity crisis when his French partner takes him back to the country of his birth.
The chance to create films that might make waves internationally may be more restricted in coming years, Kalev fears.
The government decision to halve film spending brought industryites out on the streets of Sofia in protest and cost a deputy cultural minister his job, while Alexander Donev, head of the Bulgarian National Film Center, was forced to resign.
“It is going to be a hard time for the new generation of filmmakers, particularly those just coming out of film school,” Kalev said.
Konstantin Bojanov’s “Ave” is the other local pic at Cannes.
Bojanov, who left the country 20 years ago to study fine art in London and now lives in Brooklyn, also got funding for around half his $850,000 budget.
The film, drawing on some of his own youthful experiences, is about a young man hitchhiking to a friend’s funeral who gets mixed up with an enigmatic young woman who is a compulsive liar.
But his shoot deteriorated into utter chaos, which he compares to a miniature version of that experienced by Francis Ford Coppola during the making of “Apocalypse Now,” because of the funding gap.
“The last two or three years have seen an unusually large number of films funded in Bulgaria. I am not the sort of person who waits for something to happen; if that funding had not been available, one way or another I would have made the film,” he said.
Both “Island” and “Ave” have been picked up by Paris-based Le Pacte.