You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Burgeoning Bulgarian Biz Under the Spotlight in Transilvania

Fest focus gives platform to emerging talents

In the fall of 2010, faced with cuts in public financing, Bulgarian filmmakers and other members of industry bodies swept across the capital, Sofia, in a wave of protests against austerity measures introduced by the right-wing ruling party. At the time, the country’s fledgling film industry was in a state of crisis. But eight years later, “the situation is completely different,” says Jana Karaivanova, executive director of the National Film Center. “Bulgarian filmmaking is thriving.”

A selection of contemporary Bulgarian cinema is on display this week at the Transilvania Intl. Film Festival, with the Focus Bulgaria sidebar spotlighting eight feature films and documentaries from the Eastern European nation. Beginning with Stephan Komandarev’s “Directions,” which world premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard last year, the program showcases the growing cinematic output of a country still building an industry from the ground up.

“It’s impossible not to notice that Bulgarian cinema is more and more present in most of the big festivals,” says TIFF artistic director Mihai Chirilov, who compares the movement to the emergence of the Romanian New Wave a decade ago. Such recognition, he says, is “not only a fashion. It’s a sign that something’s boiling there.”

Festival audiences have taken notice. Komandarev’s darkly comic snapshot of Bulgarian dysfunction – told through the lens of a taxi driver’s erratic night fares – was joined in Un Certain Regard last year by German writer-director Valeska Grisebach’s “Western,” which was shot in Bulgaria as a co-production with local firm Chouchkov Brothers, while Ralitza Petrova’s debut, “Godless,” about a nurse who sells the identities of her elderly patients on the black market, took the Golden Leopard in Locarno in 2016. The film will be screening in Focus Bulgaria this week, alongside another Locarno selection, “3/4,” first-time director Ilian Metev’s delicately balanced study of the changing relationship between a father and his two children, which took the top prize in the fest’s Cinema of the Present section.

Despite acclaim elsewhere in Europe, “Romanian audiences don’t know much about Bulgarian cinema,” says Chirilov. Though he describes the two countries as “brothers in arms” who share a border and a common Soviet past, he jokingly notes that their camaraderie finds its most frequent expression at holiday resorts along the Black Sea.

“The irony is that most of the Romanians don’t go to the Romanian seaside; they go to the Bulgarian seaside,” he says. “It’s sexier, it’s cleaner, it’s cheaper. This is maybe the only thing Romanians know about Bulgarians.”

There’s much to learn. With a third the population of its neighbor, Bulgaria produces the same amount of films each year while making more than double the box office. Despite the success of the Romanian New Wave, which has been one of the world’s most formidable cinematic movements since the turn of the century, “we don’t have any commercial Romanian cinema,” says Chirilov. “We have films for festivals, but people don’t go to cinemas in Romania to watch all these awarded films.”

“It’s not just commercial content,” notes Karaivanova, of the popularity of Bulgarian cinema with local viewers. “It’s very good artistic pictures that won the hearts of the audience in the theaters.”

Bulgarian filmmakers have gotten a boost from the government. The annual budget includes roughly $7.7 million to fund filmmaking, distribution, and promotion, with Karaivanova pointing to a slight bump in financing this year for minority co-productions. Whereas a decade ago the National Film Center’s annual call for funding applications would get 25-30 submissions, that number today tops 100.

The center has been actively strengthening co-production agreements and looking to introduce new ones “in order to make it easier and more productive” for local bizzers to engage with their foreign counterparts, says Karaivanova. Bulgarian producers, for their part, “are very energetic in creating co-productions with our neighboring countries, and with other European countries,” she adds.

This year the National Film Center inked a deal with Sofia’s Nu Boyana Film Studios to collaborate on the production, promotion and international distribution of films supported by the NFC, an agreement that Karaivanova says “can take some of the projects to a totally new level.”

“It needs to be encouraged,” she says, of the Bulgarian industry’s growth. “It’s so important to have success on both the national and the international level.”

More Film

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Little Woods

    Film Review: 'Little Woods'

    So much of the recent political debate has focused on the United States’ southern border, and on the threat of illegal drugs and criminals filtering up through Mexico. But what of the north, where Americans traffic opiates and prescription pills from Canada across a border that runs nearly three times as long? “Little Woods” opens [...]

  • Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping

    Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping $60 Million (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has become a destination for television visionaries like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, with deals worth $100 million and $250 million, respectively, and top comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle ($40 million and $60 million, respectively). The streaming giant, which just announced it’s added nearly 10 million subscribers in Q1, is honing in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content