It’s hard to imagine two more charming and personable filmmakers than the Bulgarian directing-producing-writing duo Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova of the production company Activist38. Although slightly punchy with fatigue, they took a short break from post-production in Paris to talk to Variety about “Women Do Cry,” their second fiction feature after the Locarno fest competitor “Cat in the Wall” (2019).
Their sales agent, MK2, submitted “Women Do Cry” to Cannes at the last possible moment; it won a spot in Un Certain Regard. Mileva and Kazakova cheerfully claim, “We were not really planning for Cannes, we’re not really ready and we keep on not being ready.” But you sense that the ladies doth protest too much. Sure, there are trailers to cut, posters to design and French and English subtitles to add to the final print, but these are tough, organized women who cut their teeth in documentary and know how to meet deadlines.
“Women Do Cry” takes place in contemporary Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, and in the countryside, against the backdrop of the protests against the Istanbul convention in 2018. The theme, inspired by Kazakova’s family, is women in general and what they have to go through in a patriarchal society, especially mothers. Riding the buzz of her Oscar, SAG, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations, Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) plays the free-spirited lead.
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Isn’t producing, directing and writing a rather full load? “Even if it sounds like a recipe for disaster and a bit megalomaniac, it has worked well in our case,” said Mileva. “We’re in an unregulated environment in Bulgaria and producing ourselves has saved us a lot of hassle.” Their French co-producer, Christophe Bruncher from Ici et La, also partnered with them on “Cat in the Wall.” Mileva said, “He’s given us a lot of security and the confidence that we can stand on a world’s stage.”
The women joked that they have a strictly regulated working process. Mileva started her career as an animator, working in Bulgaria and the U.K., so it makes sense that she’s responsible for the visuals. Meanwhile, Kazakova, an award-winning actress, is in charge of the sound. She said, “I need to hear the film. Mina’s the eye and I’m the ear.”
The duo has a similar division when it came to creating the screenplay. “I write and she plays in the middle of the room as if I am watching live theater,” laughed Mileva as Kazakova chimed in, “I verbally express myself fast, she writes it down.” But credit is also due to Kazakova’s twin, Biliana, who conceived the story by drawing on personal elements from her life. Biliana also wrote a first draft of the script that earned the Bulgarian subsidy. On top of that, the twins also play sisters in the film.
Mileva and Kazakova noted that the biggest challenge in making the film was financial because the production was quite ambitious. “But,” Mileva added, “we were also arrested once at a protest. We rang a friend working in the police and he joked, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be beaten and then released.’ Of course, we weren’t beaten.”
What’s next for the Activist38 duo? As passionate documentarians (they previously collaborated on the controversy-generating “Uncle Tony, Three Fools and the Secret Service” and “The Beast Is Still Alive”) they plan to continue nonfiction filmmaking and would like to produce for other people too. But they also have commercial ambitions. Mileva said, “I’ve spent 20 years in a highly commercial environment in Britain. We believe that some viewers are cleverer than us and we always attempt to work for these people.”