Bulgarian helmer Stephan Komandarev, whose critically acclaimed feature “Directions” played in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar, has wrapped production on the documentary feature “Life From Life,” the director announced this week during the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.
The film explores the hurdles facing organ transplant recipients in Bulgaria, once among Eastern Europe’s leaders in the medical procedure, but now ranking last on the continent for the number of transplants performed.
Komandarev said the inspiration for “Life From Life” came while he was developing the script for “Directions,” in which a heart transplant is central to the film’s interweaving storylines. During his research he met Georgi Peev, a recipient of heart and kidney transplants, as well as a competitive swimmer in Bulgaria. “He’s an amazing person,” said Komandarev. “He’s one of the main heroes of our documentary film.”
The director planned to follow Peev and his teammates as they trained for the European Transplant Swimming Championships in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic, however, upended those plans.
“We changed the idea of this documentary film in order to try to show what is happening in Bulgaria,” said Komandarev. In the end, he broadened the lens of “Life” to include patients waiting for organ transplants, as well as a doctor who coordinates with donors. “We included a lot of new heroes in the film.”
Komadarev spent close to a year shooting “Life From Life,” maintaining strict protocols on set, since many of the film’s subjects who were awaiting transplants were in a particularly vulnerable group. A doctor who worked for five years in the medical profession before turning to film, the director even put his medical training to use during production: when his DoP lost his nerve while filming a particularly graphic scene of an organ transplant, Komandarev picked up the camera and shot the scene himself.
“Life From Life” is produced by Komandarev and Katya Trichkova for Argo Film, in coproduction with Bulgarian National Television and with the support of the Bulgarian National Film Center. Komandarev is shooting for a theatrical rollout in Bulgaria this fall, before the film airs on the public broadcaster—a move that he hopes will broaden both its reach and its impact.
“The basic idea is to change the situation in Bulgaria,” he said. “We have a film that is very human. It’s very touching.” He added: “We became very close with all these people that we shot during the pandemic that are waiting for organs. Somehow, the main idea is to help them.”
Komandarev’s widely heralded “Directions” was the first installment in a trilogy about the social inequality and moral ills plaguing both Bulgaria and Europe. His 2019 follow-up, “Rounds,” had its world premiere in Sarajevo. “Hello,” the final feature in the trilogy, is set to begin production this fall.