Ron Holloway (1933-2009)

December 19, 2009 at 4:35 am

It was less than a year ago, in February 2009, that I saw Ron Holloway and his wife Dorothea, at the FEST in Belgrade, where Ron and Slobodan Sijan had organised a round table on women-filmmakers in Eastern Europe. I knew that he was not well, but did not expect that he only had months left to live. He seemed as busy and as active as always, passing around copies of his ubiquitous publication KINO: German Cinema, which he had been publishing for many years (since 1979, as it seems) and which highlighted German and East European cinema and festivals. I just received the publication that resulted out of this project about ten days ago; one feels like life continues and that Ron has not left us.

My first encounter with Ron was through a book of his, Bulgarian Cinema (1986), which I read in the early 1990s. It strikes me that, like the cinema to which it is dedicated, this book is now being almost forgotten. It is not mentioned in the obituaries I read, and yet it is one of Ron’s most serious academic efforts. It is a systematic and deep study, in which he introduces the concept of Poetic Cinema, a key term that was adopted later on by Daniel Goulding and other academics and gained currency through its wider application to the cinema of Eastern Europe at large. This study remains probably the most academic study of Ron’s. I am deeply grateful for it as it greatly influenced and shaped my own scholarly interests.

I had several opportunities to work with Ron over the years. One of the projects was special issue on Bulgarian cinema which I edited for the on-line journal Kinokultura in 2006. Here is a link to the article we co-authored, entitled Hoping for a Bulgarian Film Revival.

There were several occasions over the years that Ron shared with me his dismay with Bulgaria’s film bureaucrats who had invited him in the early 1980s and had helped him to view all the films he needed in order to write his book. Later on, however, he felt ignored by them as, in the 1990s, they seemed to have had completely forgotten his existence and commitment to the cinema of this country. I tried to explain that governments had changed, that the new people were most likely considering everything done by their predecessors as worthy of destruction, and so on — yet, I can see very well why he was feeling so bitter. I would feel the same in his place. His death is not being reported in the Bulgarian newspapers as far as I can tell, writing this from Sofia where I am visiting at the moment.

During our encounter in Belgrade in February 2009 I kept pestering Ron with questions about his long life as a festival goer, to me he is probably the prototypical individual who I describe in my writing on the ‘Festival Circuit’ when I talk about ‘the festival treadmill’. He was a man living for an at film festivals. I very much wanted to learn, in particular, about the film festival of non-aligned nations, mostly from the Third World that the Soviet Union was trying to rally culturally, that had been taking place in Tashkent, Uzbekistan (USSR), during the 1970s and the early 1980s, a festival that no longer exists but which he had visited many times. He did not manage to tell me as much as I wanted to know, and promised to talk to me about it at a later point. With Ron now gone, the feeling is that a whole era has disappeared.

It is only now, from his obituary issued by Interfilm, that I learn about Ron Holloway’s involvement with the Cuernavaca (Mexico) centre for intercultural learning, run by de-schooling ideologue Ivan Illich, another person who has had a shaping influence over my thinking over the years.

© Dina Iordanova
19 December 2009

Golyamoto noshtno kapane/The Big Night Bathe (Bulgaria, 1980), dir. Binka Zhelyazkova

March 10, 2009 at 1:01 am

An e-mail from a British colleague prompted me to prioritize the viewing of this DVD, which I recently purchased for 3 Bg leva in the Sofia supermarket near where my parents live. As I promised to lend him the film, I thought I should view it before sending it off, just to refresh my memory of it and see if the feeling of serious reservations that it had left me with on first viewing (now nearly 30 years ago!) would change.

The British colleague is interested in Binka Zhelyazkova’s work in general, and for a good reason: she is one of the major feminist directors from Eastern Europe, but, unlike Vera Chytilova or Marta Meszaros, she remains virtually unknown. The man had tried to approach the cinematheque in Sofia to check if they would consider making Binka’s work available, and had received a polite response written in good English which was informing him that, yes, they could produce copies and DVDs and in general help with availability, only they would do this if he could please make his own arrangements toward presenting them with letters from two other Bulgarian institutions that would give the cinematheque authorisation to go ahead with making the material available. Needless to say, the colleague dropped it all at this point (as most other researchers would); seeing this correspondence gave me an interesting glimpse into the absurdities in treating cinematic heritage that everybody working on these matters is constantly confronted with.

Now about the film itself. I still think i is a really week one; I could not help it being truly annoyed by the cartoonish characters, the slow pace, and lack of dramatic tension. If I remember correctly, the plot of the film is based on a real story. During the shooting of a film set in ancient Thrace, a bunch of friends organise a midnight swimming party on the seaside set. Drunken, they decide to play a game where one of them climbs on a stone with a rope on his neck and a sickle in his hand. The others are dancing in a circle and at one point somebody kicks the stone underneath the hangman; to save himself he is supposed to manage cutting the rope with the sickle. Two of the ‘victims’ make it, but in the third instance the young man does not manage to cut the rope and hangs. This is the culminating event in the film, which is preceded by a long (and tedious) build up of what are supposedly character studies of those involved, and is followed by an equally tedious investigation. It is all supposed to expose the drunken and promiscuous environment and the moral decline (of mature socialism) that leads to the sad loss. One of the subplots is the love affair between young gorgeous Ninel and Sava, a relationship that is seriously tested by their class differences (something that would normally not be supposed to exist under socialism). Another subplot tackles ‘The Little Prince’, the son of a highly placed party apparatchik who has just been demoted (so all speculate how their friend will be affected), yet another story included to expose the moral corruption within socialism. All protagonists are good looking, well-to-do, successful, and sexy; yet their problems are not deeply suffered and there is no dramatic development to build up to the moment of the hanging; the 150 min. length of the film can hardly be justified.

Golyamoto noshtno kapane (1980) is scripted, like Binka Zhelyazkova’s previous film, Baseynat/Swimming Pool (1977) by her husband Hristo Ganev, who is responsible also for the script of A byahme mladi/ We Were Young (1961), a film that won the top award at the Moscow International Film Festival but was nonetheless shelved afterwards and created a number of problems both for the director and the screenwriter.* One should immediately say that the script is probably the film’s biggest liability. It is supposed to have been a daring statement of sort, as Hristo Ganev enjoyed the reputation of a dissident writer, and it is probably not politically correct to declare his work weak (especially, as I can imagine, he has probably seen at least some of his work suppressed by the authorities). However, i simply cannot help it calling the script what it is: a feeble work of screenwriting. While it is clearly intended to critique the moral decline that reigned over mature socialism, as revealed here through the disorientation of this lost generation, the film is heavily dominated by small talk dialogue that should have been cut down in order to allow the director use at least some of her imagination. A pity that she does not appear to have had the strength to resist the weak script and take charge.

The second liability is the poor acting. Not much could have been done there, however, provided the heavy dialogue dominates it all. The actors are selected from among the promising new generation of VITIZ gaduates: Nikolay Sotirov (a Mathew Modine look-alike), Yanina Kasheva, Tania Shahova, Lyuben Chatalov — all actors who showed promise but were then affected by the downturn in cinema that came about at the end of the decade when they had launched their careers. For who knows what reason, there are two foreign actors in the cast (not that their presence is logically required, nor that they contribute anything to the performance, as they are both more than boring): Polish Malgorzata Braunek who plays the jaded masseuse Zhana, and Lithianian heart-throb Juozas Budraitis, whose supporting role barely has more than ten lines. I would speculate that the reason these two were in the film is that they simply wanted to spend a paid vacation on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. The main ‘acting’ is in the heavy dialogues between Nkolay Sotirov (Sava) and Yanina Kasheva (Ninel) and is meant to expose the rift between profound inherent values of carrying morality that is still intact in the provinces (he is taking care of his ill mother in the beautiful mountain hamlet of Melnik) and the inherently corrupt mores exemplified by English-language-school graduate Ninel and her friends, an urban crowd from the capital (new bourgeoisie, so to speak).

There are moments of greatness in this film, however, remnants of Binka Zhelyazkova’s trademark avantgardist brilliance: the occasional low camera shot, the bird-eye view scenes, the filming of animals (killing of birds and crabs), the drum, the dry tree on the stony seaside. These are, however, too few, to compensate for the overwhelming boredom. With the abundance of close up shots of beautiful semi-naked bodies among sand dunes, this film somehow kept referencing in my mind to a relatively recent Vera Chytilová work, the equally weak Vyhnání z ráje/ Expulsion from Paradise (2001), which, even if made more than twenty years later also evolves around sand dunes and relationships, and looks very similar in its beach stories, aesthetics and concerns.

I must confess to taking a profound dislike to all novels and films that feature a group of similar protagonists, and where the focus is on the group dynamics — be it taking place in a boarding school, a student dorm, in a madhouse or, like here, among a group of young people on their summer holidays. It is a large topic that I am not going to go into and which I am mentioning mostly because, strangely enough, it seems it was this kind of group dynamics films that dominated the early 1980s of Bulgarian cinema. The earliest one seems to be Binka Zhelyazkova and Hristo Ganev’s Baseynat/Swimming Pool (1977), about a bunch of young people confronting issues of moral decline, very similar and equally dialogue-heavy as The Big Night Bathe. Then there were films such as Vulo Radev‘s Adaptatsiya/Adaptation (1981), probably the best of this range (about a bunch of young people belonging to a psychoanalysis group), Lavina/ Avalanche (1982), based on Blaga Dimitrova (a bunch of young people forced to confront their moral foundations when challenged by nature), and Rangel Vulchanov‘s A sega nakade?/And Where Do We Go From Here? (1986), about a bunch of young people searching for a moral compass in life. The cycle probably came to an end with Ivan Andonov‘s Vchera/Yesterday (1988) where the bunch of young people affected by a moral crisis put it all squarely on the vicious socialist system. What is noteworthy is that all these films scrutinizing the moral decline in the young generation were made by members of the older generation, directors and writers born in the 1920s and the early 1930s; members of the generation that was being scrutinised (my generation actually, born in the 1960s) simply never had the chance to make films on these matters as by the time we came to maturity, the end of socialist funding for cinema hit and severely limited the chances to develop robust and prolific filmmaking careers. Thus, we never had the chance to give a cinematic response to the diagnostic that older filmmakers were imposing on us.

When I look back now, I realize that I probably hated these films as my life was not particularly different from what was shown in it. We had all adapted to the socialist system which we were not finding particularly onerous, as long as we could go abroad once a year and spend three weeks by leisurely exposing our naked bodies on the cliffs near the village of Varvara, where, for many years, the dry tree used as a prop for the hanging in The Big Night Bathe was still standing. We were passing by it every day, on our way to the nudist beach, and then also on most nights, on our way to the late night parties that were full of alcohol, locally sourced and prepared food, and heterosexual sex: pretty much the same stuff that is seen in the film.

* See my piece on these matters: Iordanova, Dina. “Binka Zhelyazkova” In: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia (ed. Derek Jones), London/Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publ., 2001, vol 4, pp. 2705/6.

© Dina Iordanova
10 March 2009

South East European Women Directors, Round Table at FEST in Belgrade, 2009

March 6, 2009 at 7:05 am

Last week I took part in the round table featured on this photo. The event took place at the Sava Center, the modern and somehow anonymous site in the new part of Belgrade, Serbia (across the river from better-known popular quarters like Kalemegdan and Skadarlija). The project was developed on the initiative of director Slobodan Sijan (of Ko To Tamo Peva/Who Is Singing Out There fame), and the visit to Belgrade was really a great chance for me to meet with this hugely important cinema visionary from the region. It was also a chance to get an update from old friend Dusan Makavejev, who is in great shape and spirit. Besides people like Ron Hollway, Bernd Buder and Silke Rabiger who, like myself, had arrived from abroad, or Pavle Levi from Stanford, who is spending his sabbatical leave in his native Belgrade, the round table brought together some female filmmakers as well, like Melina Pota-Koljevic or Carna Manojlovic and scholars Nevena Dakovic, Milena Dragicevic-Sesic, and Ivana Kronja. Of course, festival director Milos Paramentic and artistic director Mica Vuckovic were also there; it was great to catch up with Vida Johnson, a US-based specialist on Russian cinema, who has decided to finally do some work on Serbian cinema and is preparing a special issue for the on-line journal Kinokultura.

I see that Ron Holloway has already published the study he presented at the Round Table. In the context of our preparation, we also worked collectively to come up with a list of female filmmakers from the region of South East Europe. I am posting here a version of this list which contains 63 names (but it is constantly growing, and I am aware that many names of filmmakers from Greece and Turkey in particular are still to be added). It is great to see that some attention is finally being paid to these filmmakers. I remember that more than 15 years ago I had tried to put in an application to some US-based foundation to finance my travel to the region so that I can explore more the work of female directors. The application was rejected on the basis that I would be exploring something non-existent. Well, the list below would probably help if someone would consider making a similar application nowadays.

SEE WOMEN FILM DIRECTORS – JANUARY 2009
Working List – 63 SEE Women Film Directors – English Titles

Albania – 1
Elezi, Iris (Suicide Inc, USA 2001, Disposable Heroes, Kosovo, 2005), short films

Bosnia and Herzegovina – 7
Begic, Aida (Snow, 2008), Cannes Week of Critics Award
Ljubic, Vesna (Posljednji skretnicar uzanog kolosijeka, 1986)
Majstorovic, Danijela (Counterpoint for Her, 2004, The Dream Job, 2006)
Milosevic, Ivana (Never Been Better, 2006)
Svilicic, Vanja (See You in Sarajevo, 2008), short feature
Vajraca, Sabina (Back to Bosnia, 2005, with Alison Hanson)
Zbanic, Jasmila (Red Rubber Boots, 2000, Grbavica, 2006, Golden Bear Berlinale)

Bulgaria – 17
Aktasheva, Irina (Monday Morning, 1966) (worked in tandem with Hristo Piskov)
Andonova, Milena (Monkeys in Winter, 2006)
Evstatieva-Biolcheva, Mariana (The Prince and the Pauper, 2005)
Grubcheva, Ivanka (One Calory of Tenderness, 2003)
Koseva, Nadejda (Ritual, in Lost and Found omnibus film, 1995)
Milotinova, Milena (The Saved Ones, 1999), documentary
Nikolova, Elka (Binka, 2007), documentary on Binka Zhelyazkova
Peeva, Adela (Whose Song Is This?, 2003), documentary
Pesheva, Sylvia, (Shantav den / Crazy Day, 2004)
Petkova, Roumiana (The Other Possible Life of Ours, 2007)
Petrova, Svetlina (She, 2001), animation
Sophia, Zornitsa (Mila from Mars, 2004)
Tosheva, Nevena (Bulgaria: Land, People, Sun, 1966), documentary
Traykova, Eldora (Of People and Bears, 1995), documentary
Triffonova, Iglika (Investigation, 2006), Cottbus Grand Prize
Tsotsorkova, Svetla (Life with Sophia, 2004)
Zhelyazkova, Binka (The Tied-Up Balloon, 1967)

Croatia – 4
Budisavlejevic, Dana (Everything’s Fine, 2003)
Cakic-Veselic, Biljana (The Boy Who Rushed, 2002)
Juka, Ivona (Facing the Day, 2005), documentary
Tribuson, Snjezana (Three Love Stories, 2007)

Greece – 6
Angelidi, Antouanetta (Thief of Reality, 2001)
Dimitriou, Alinda (Birds in the Mire, 2008), documentary
Malea, Olga (The Cow’s Orgasm, 1997)
Marketaki, Tonia (The Price of Love, 1984), died in 1994; major figure)
Rikaki, Loukia (Symfonia haraktiron, 1999)
Tsangari, Athina Rachel (The Slow Business of Going, 2000)

Hungary – 6
Elek, Judit (Awakening, 1995)
Enyedi, Ildiko (My 20th Century, 1989)
Fekete, Ilboya (Bolshe Vita, 1996, Chico, 2001)
Gyarmathy, Livia (Escape, 1997)
Kocsis, Agnes (Fresh Air, 2006)
Meszaros, Marta (Adoption, 1975)

Kosovo – 2
Zeqiraj, Lendita (Exit, 2004), codirector
Zeqiri, Blerta (Exit, 2004), codirector

Macedonia – 2
Mitevska, Teona Strugar (I Killed a Saint, 2004, I Am From Titov Veles, 2007)
Zarevska, Dragana (Grandma’s Villlage, 2007)

Montenegro – 1
Perovic, Marija (Pack the Monkeys Again, 2004)

Romania – 5
Bostan, Elisabeta (A Telephone Call, 1991), children’s films
Domin, Andrada (The Lamenters, 2007), documentary
Niculescu Bran, Tatiana(For God’s Sake, 2007), documentary, codirector
Radu, Corina (Bar de zi and Other Stories, 2006), documentary
Ursianu, Malvina (What a Happy World, 2003)

Serbia – 7
Balas-Petrovic, Eva (Panonski Peak, 1989)
Boskov, Gordana (What’s Up, Nina?, 1984, Flashback, 1997)
Ceramilac, Ratiborka (Virtual Reality, 2001)
Kapic, Suada (The Trap, 1988)
Maric, Marija (Heartsick Youth, 1990)
Stojkovic, Andrijana (An Island, 1996), Home, 1996, The Box, work-in-progress)
Vukomanovic, Mirjana (Three Summer Days, 1997)

Slovenia – 2
Slak, Hana A.W. (Blind Spot, 2002)
Weiss, Maya (Guardian of the Frontier, 2002)

Turkey – 3
Esmer, Pelin (The Play, 2005), documentary
Ipekci, Handan (Hidden Faces, 2007)
Ustaoglu, Yesim (Waiting for the Clouds, 2003, Pandora’s Box, 2008)

Epics of national pride: The international exposure

February 14, 2009 at 12:03 am

I am curious about the international presence of all those international epic sagas that are made with the ambition to showcase glorious national history. Such films are suitable mostly for internal national usage, but in some cases get exported world-wide, even though remaining self-contained and of limited niche interest in the context of such releases.

A project of this kind was in the centre of attention in my native country, Bulgaria, in 1981 – the year when the 1300 anniversary of the establishment of the first Bulgarian state in 681 was being celebrated. The film 681- Velichieto na hana was an epic saga telling the glorious history of the nation’s founding father, Khan Aszparuh. Based on a novel by respected historian Vera Mutafchieva, the film was made in two versions. Khan Aszparuh (1981) was an extended three-part Bulgarian version, whereas 681: Velichieto na hana/ 681: The Glory of the Khan (1981) was an English language version of the same film, based on the same script, made by the same director and starring the same actors, only shorter and made with international export in mind. Needless to say, the film went largely unnoticed internationally. Nonetheless, this is one of the few Bulgarian films that can still be found in vernacular Western distribution today, and certainly a curios project that provides a good glimpse into the way such national epics are produced and publicized. I have occasionally had the chance to hear from American and West European academics engaged in teaching Bulgarian culture and history that they have used the film in the context of their work.

Kazakh-financed Nomad, for example, a technically proficient epic tale of the glorious beginnings of the Kazakh nation in the 18th century filmed on the initiative of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbaev, was tackled as a project of national importance and made for $40 million with French assistance. It dealt with alternative narratives of the Kazakh past aiming to give boost to emancipating the nation’s historical identity from the Soviet shadow. Conceived and executed as a product clearly geared toward international markets, the project was completed with the directorial involvement of well-known diasporic US-based Europeans (Czech Ivan Passer and Russian Sergei Bodrov). The film was nominated for a Golden Globe and distributed by the Weinstein Company who secured an international and a North American release, but only had limited impact.

Similarly, the US distribution of Suriyothai, a lavish 16-th century spectacle of national pride from Thailand, featuring majestic battles and elephant battles that are said to have directly influenced Oliver Stone Alexander’s Asian battle scenes, was treated as a project of utmost national importance, aimed at getting the film a foreign Oscar nomination (Jirattikorn, 2003). Its carefully-orchestrated U.S. release took place with assistance from Francis Ford Coppola, a personal friend of director Yukol, who adapted a version of the film for the North American market. North American theatrical distribution was handled by Sony Picture Classics (which placed a total of twenty two prints in circulation) and the DVD – by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, making Suriyothai one of the few Thai films readily available in the West. It enjoyed good critical reception but it did not bring significant revenues.

Clearly, such national projects remain of utmost significance within the context of the producing nation. It is often the case that all instances of foreign distribution and acclaim for these films are given disproportionate attention domestically, thus creating the impression that the national saga has been truly influential internationally. In reality, these are films that remain primarily of academic interest and most often end up used in the context of area studies. In her analysis of the discourse surrounding Suriyothai, for example, anthropologist Amporn Jirattikorn (2003) argues that the film’s construction of ‘Thai-ness’ effectively promotes a narrative of self-sufficiency and positive isolationism, thus furthering the ideology of the ability of Thailand to remain intact by colonizing flows and to maintain its sovereignty today like it has been able to do in the past. And indeed, given the fact that Suriyothai was distributed internationally but never reached the popularity that had been planned for it, it may be noteworthy that Thais have not made further efforts to get into Western distribution the two subsequent epic dramas made by Suriyothai’s director Yukol, thus confirming Jirattikorn’s commentary on the ideological underpinnings of self-sufficiency, conscious distancing from the West and focusing on cultivating discourse on Thailand’s history exclusively within the country. Could it be that the decision of the Thais is suggestive of an attitude that is skeptical of the chances for an intra-cultural dialogue? And if this is the case, is this stance limited only to those Asian nations that are known for isolationist national ideology or it reflects a wider approach?

*Jirattikorn, Amporn. ‘Suriyothai: Hybridizing Thai National Identity Through Film,’ Journal of Inter-Asian Cultural Studies. Volume 4, Issue 2, August 2003, p. 296-308.

* * See dedicated pieces on Nomad, Suriyothai and other recent international epics in the Epic Cinema section of DinaView.

© Dina Iordanova
7 February 2009

Nie sme na vseki kilometar: A personal memoir

January 7, 2009 at 1:04 am

During a recent visit to my native city of Sofia, Bulgaria, I heard that the Socialist Party (formerly Communist Party) which had just held its 47th or so Congress, has been in the media with a clip using motives of the famous TV series Na vseki kilometar (1969). As this film is associated with a host of memories for me, I could not help it but searching for the clip on YouTube. Here is what emerged:

The man who jumps on the tram is actor Stefan Danailov, who played the lead role of Sergei/Major Deyanov in Na vseki kilometar. (The protagonist was an underground anti-fascist conspirator who always managed to outwit the police and pull off whatever he had planned to do.) There was a well-known episode in the original series where Sergei jumps on a tram, like in this present clip. Using the reconstruction of this familiar visual trope and casting the same actor, who is now nearly forty years older, is a good approach to the clip’s target audience, which consists of die-hard former communists and by those younger Bulgarians who, supposedly, believe in the continuity of the socialist tradition. Actor Danailov himself is now part of the governing coalition, and has enjoyed a relatively good reputation during his mandate as culture minister (prior to entering politics he was mostly busy appearing in various Italian productions, most notably as a bad guy in the seventh installment of Italian mafia TV series La Piovra). In the clip featured here, he talks to the ‘tram driver’ who is, in fact, Sergey Stanichev, the current socialist PM of Bulgaria, a guy of whom I have got no personal views as he has appeared on the country’s political scene in a period over which I have no immediate observations (my understanding is that he is some sort of typical aparatchik). Stanishev turns to Danailov, who is breathing heavily after having jumped on the tram in a well-familiar Sofia setting (‘tramvaycheto v gorichkata na Pionerskiya dvorets’), and comments: “Things are not like before, eh?” Danailov replies: “Well, they are not. Yet the ideas and the dreams remain the same!” An elderly man who is riding on the tram approaches, calls him ‘Sergei’ (the name from the TV series), and, hand on heart, confirms that he is all up for these same ideas and dreams. Inspiring indeed!

Now, I am still significantly younger than the two old men appearing in this video, yet I am old enough to have a host of memories triggered by the viewing of this clip. So maybe in a move of nostalgia, I went on checking if there was anything from the actual Na vseki kilometar on YouTube. And there was, to my surprise: a two-minute long clip featuring the opening scene and credits of the series (where also the well-known tune sounds). It is posted on YouTube by someone from Vietnam, who testifies as to the film’s popularity there (a theme in which I have persistent interest, namely the wide international exposure of some of the East European productions in the specific transnational context of the so-called Second and Third world, see comments in my piece on Estonian Viimne Reliikvia on these matters). Here it is:

Kosta Karageorgiev, the actor who appears here as the young shooter who is killed at the beginning, is also singing the song (a well-recognizable tune in the Bulgarian context; most folks of my generation would know the lyrics by heart). A Woody Allan look-alike, this bespectacled nondescript charmer enjoyed real popularity when I was a child (He was in many childrens’ programmes, known as ‘bate Kosta’; I see from the imdb he has died in 1998, which means that he has not lived beyond his mid-50s).

Karageorgiev was mostly a singer, and one of my earliest memories involves him. My mother was working in the childrens’ department of Radio Sofia at the time (must have been around 1965), and one day she took me to the studio with her; she was to be recording some songs for a radio show she was preparing. The singer she was working this day happened to be Kosta Karageorgiev (who was already a well known TV personality alongside the ubiquitous bat’ Climbo, Kliment Denchev, who was painting on glass in the show and later disappeared by emigrating to Canada, where he also largely disappeared for the artistic profession).

I must have been about 6 years old. The actor approached me and asked me what was my name, and I replied ‘Kostadina’ (my full name). To which he said: ‘Hm, how is it possible then that we have not known each other so far if we have the same name (‘adashi’), all people by the same given name must know each other.’ I was smitten and extremely pleased at the same time. I had never heard anything like this until then, so I took what he said by face value: it would be, indeed, great, if all people by the same given name knew each other. It was only a few years later that I realized this was not really the case. Still, even today I sometimes hear myself producing the same comment when I see children who share the same name — maybe because the friendly comment of the actor back in my childhood is so deeply entrenched in my early memories.

The other personal memory linked to Na vseki kilometar must be from around 1968. We lived in Lozenetz; the house was at the bottom of a hill-street on which a tram runs. One day the traffic was blocked for the same of a film shoot. I was all happening opposite our house, so I was able to look on as much as I wanted. This is the first time I had the chance to see how films are made and to realize how many takes one does for a single sequence in a film. The scene represented a tram descending the steep street, and a young man jumping out of it while the tram is in full motion. They shot probably more than twenty times the same thing: the tram would ascend the hill and then head down down, and the actor would jump out of it at one point, and run parallel to the tram until the acceleration of the tram’s motion wore off. And then all over again and again. I cannot say who was the young man jumping out of the tram. It might have been Stefan Danailov himself (he was an unknown young actor at the time, so I could not have possibly recognize him; he only became a well-known face after the huge popularity of the series), or it might have been a double. I was, of course, looking to see the scene when the film aired on TV, but I do not think I ever saw it. They may have removed it, thus deleting the celluloid equivalent to this memorable day of my life altogether. In any case, I will always remember the sweet feeling I had on that day while looking on, of being part of something in the making that was to come on later, of witnessing the process of creating a film. Who knows, it might have been experiences like this that have led me to become who I am today: an on-looker, a critic.

As to the series itself, I do not remember many details. In my mind, it links with the Romanian films by Sergiu Nicolaescu on Inspector Moldovan — not because the plot or protagonists were the same, but the spirit, the exploitation of the policier genre (and also because I have seen these more recently than Na vseki kilometar). There was this good looking, sleek and superior Sergei/Deyanov, who always outsmarted the cops. There was the unforgettably popular peasant-partisan Mitko Bombata, played by beloved comedian Grigor Vachkov, some of whose lines in the series would then enter into wide for popular circulation. And, of course, there was the intelligent cerebral policeman Velinski, played by respected theatre actor Georgi Cherkelov (this was such a superb performance that the actor, who was mostly known in the capital as he was playing in theatre, and not across the country, was regularly being referred to not by his real name, but by the name of the protagonist whom he played in the series, so high was the degree to which audiences were identifying him with the role). Otherwise, the film was a typical historical propaganda fare, painting the resistance pretty much in black and white and remaining silent on all the awkward issues related to the period of WWII and its aftermath. What else can one expect from the Sixteenth Soviet republic in 1969? (I hear that this is a period where all the countries in the East of Europe have lived through ideological stagnation which reflected their reaction of well-grounded fear from the iron grip of the Soviets in the aftermath of the Prague invasion). In any case, back then this would not have been my assessment as I had no clue of any of these contextual aspects; I have become aware of them at a much later point. As far my personal recollection for back then is concerned, I was a child enjoying the entertainment that was on offer. And it was fun.

© Dina Iordanova
7 January 2009

Dina Iordanova, New Bulgarian Cinema, 2008

September 22, 2008 at 12:38 am

My monograph New Bulgarian Cinema (College Gate, 2008) is now available to purchase either by clicking on the link below (to the web-site of Blurb, the excellent PoD service which produced it), or by clicking the PayPal buttons below, directly ordering to the publishers. NB Blurb site requires registration; when you visit you will be able to view a preview of the first fifteen pages of the book.

Described by Ron Holloway as a ‘poetic cinema,’ since 1989 Bulgaria’s film industry underwent testing times. Dina Iordanova’s comprehensive study discusses the ups and downs of the national film tradition in the post-communist period.

Table of Contents:

Ch. 1 Testing Times:
1.1. Managing Change; 1.2. Generations

Ch. 2 Where Are We Coming From?
2.1. Tackling the Ottoman Legacy; 2.2. Multi-ethnic Conviviality? 2.3. Tackling the Communist Period.

Ch. 3 Where Are We Headed To?
3.1. Drabness; 3.2. Existential Concerns; 3.3. The Road to Europe; 3.4. The Road to the Village.

Ch. 4 Embracing the Balkan
Notes, Bibliography, Web-sites, Filmography

Available in soft cover (£14.95; 978-1-906678-02-9) and hard cover (£29.95; ISBN 978-1-906678-01-2). Square 7×7 inches (18×18 cm) 120 pages.

To purchase the paperback edition














To purchase the hard cover edition













Hard cover