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March 2010, 12/03/2010

Dear Valued Readers,

with the Oscars fresh in mind we thought it might be an appropriate time to take a look at the Bulgarian film industry.

Bulgarian Film Industry

Often described as poetic the Bulgarian film industry has been in decline since its heydays during the communist era (although there are some signs of recovery). It is a joy to take a look at some of the older films to see how rapid the change has been in the urban landscape of Bulgaria and how the politics of the time is reflected in the relationships between people themselves and indeed the state. Watching the films you can understand more why some people still seem to look with affection upon the communist era. The streets seemed cleaner and life more straightforward with no evidence of need (of course these films were also propaganda material). Many of the films can be downloaded from the Internet however most are without English subtitles (but still enjoyable to watch).

Even though film production started early and active filmmaking dates back to the 1930s, a genuine film industry in Bulgaria developed only under state socialism in the aftermath of World War II. By the mid- 1980s, the industry employed about 2,000 highly qualified workers engaged around the Boyana film studio near Sofia and a number of production units for feature, documentary, and animation films. Bulgarian films were played at international festivals and were showcased at the Varna film festival.

Nearly 600 feature films were produced during the years of communism (1945-1989), but since 1989, the output of feature films has dropped to four or five a year and the total number of Bulgarian films for the period 1990-2005 is slightly over sixty. On recent occasions when critics were asked to name the best Bulgarian films of all times, most short listed titles were from the 1960s and 1970s; not a single film made after 1985 ever makes it to the top dozen. Ironically, it seems that Bulgarian cinema's best moments remain confined to the past, when filmmakers had to be politically conformist but still enjoyed the chance to reach out to audiences.

The downfall of Bulgarian cinema was caused by the withdrawal of state funding for filmmaking by a succession of short-lived post-communist governments. The scale of the decline can be seen from the films selected by Bulgaria for Oscar consideration under the Best Foreign Film category.

1) Communist Era Submissions 1972-1990

Bulgaria deemed seven films worthy of Oscar consideration, choosing primarily apolitical films, particularly nationalist dramas showcasing Bulgarian history.

The most famous of these was "The Goat Horn", a revenge drama based on a famous Bulgarian folktale and considered one of the greatest Bulgarian films of all-time. Set in the 18th century, four bandits rape and kill a woman in front of her husband and young daughter. The husband then raises his daughter as a boy, specifically to take revenge. "Khan Asparuh" is an epic 9th century drama about Bulgaria's greatest Khan Asparuh, who defeated the Byzantines and founded the Bulgarian state at its present lands. "Time of Violence" is a 17th century tale about the invasion of a Christian region by the Janissaries- Bulgarian youths kidnapped as children by the Ottoman Turks and raised as Muslims in order to violently convert their home villages. The latter film was selected for the Oscars in the midst of the political turmoil that led to the communist overthrow.

Three other dramas bordered on the surreal. Two films by Christo Christov were selected in the 1970s: "The Last Summer", about a rural town whose residents are forced to go elsewhere when a new dam floods the area, and "The Barrier", a romance between a middle-aged composer and an eccentric woman to whom he gives shelter in his home. "Where Do We Go From Here?" is the story of a director cruelly manipulating 26 aspiring actors and actresses trying to win an acting competition.

The first-ever Bulgarian Oscar submission was the children's comedy film "Porcupines Are Born without Bristles", which was selected in fall 1971 to compete for the 1972 Oscars.

2) Post-Communist Transition Period 1990- 2000

After the fall of communism and the end of generous state subsidies, Bulgarian film output fell drastically. In 1999, not a single Bulgarian film was released. Those few films that were released took advantage of the new lack of censorship to harshly attack the excesses of the old regime. All three films submitted for consideration to the Oscars in this time period were anti-communist films. "Margarit and Margarita", the story of two rebellious youths who fall in love, was banned before the 1989 revolution and was released shortly after. "The Well" tells the story of how communism was imposed with an iron fist after the end of World War II. In "The Canary Season" we hear the tragic life story of a woman as retold to her teenage son who wants to know the identity of his real father, in which she recounts her rape and forced marriage at the hands of the regime.

3) The 2000s-Present

Prior to "Letter to America", every movie on this list had been produced by the respected film studio Boyana Film. Starting with "Letter to America", films from the new and independent studios began to be chosen for the first time. As the number of internationally recognized Bulgarian films increased, multiple films began to be considered each year. In the 2006-2008 selections, four, five and three semi-finalists were considered respectively.

Since fall 2000, Bulgaria has never failed to submit a film for consideration in the category. Three out of the nine films were directed by women. Since 2006, nine Foreign Language Film contenders are shortlisted after initial Academy viewings. Then a selection of Academy members in New York and Los Angeles determine the final five nominees. "The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner" was among the nine films shortlisted in 2010.

Towards the end of 2009 the film "Dzift" featuring the actor Zahari Bakalov and model turned actress Tanya Ilieva was released. It is considered to be one of the best Bulgarian movies made during the last several years and, after its success at the Moscow Film Festival where it won Best Director award, a US producing company has contacted the team with an offer to create an American version and remake of "Dzift".


Plovdiv Roman Stadium To Be Restored

The ancient Roman Stadium in the heart of the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv is to be restored after Plovdiv Regional Administration succeeded in obtaining European funding of over EUR 900,000 for the restoration project. This archaeological project envisages the construction of an ancient underground museum as well as modern presentation centers. Archaeologists will also excavate parts of the site, hoping to find further traces of early Roman times. Such museums exists in only a few places in the world and this one will be the first in the country.

The stadium which is situated in the centre of the city, in Dzhumaya square, dates from the 2nd century AD and is one of the largest Roman structures in the Balkans. It was discovered in the 1970s but has never been fully exposed, as most of its 180-meter length lies underneath the city's shopping street.


Tough Smoking Ban In Bulgaria Delayed Till 2011

Bulgaria's ruling party may postpone the introduction of a new smoking ban in the country until 2011. The delay in the introduction of the ban, which was initially set for June this year, aims to avoid hurting the tourist industry during times of crisis, according to the Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov. Under the proposed changes the owners of restaurants, clubs and cafes with an area less than 100 square meters should decide if smoking would be allowed, while for larger establishments there must be a well-isolated smoking space. The full ban for all other public spaces remains effective.


A New Danube Ferry To Link Bulgaria And Romania

A new ferry line connecting Bulgaria and Romania across the Danube River will be launched officially on 2nd April 2010. The ferry boat complex will be connecting Bulgaria's town of Nikopol and Romania's Turnu Magurele.

The distance between the two ferry stations is 800 m and it will take 8 minutes to cross the Danube River for the Romanian ferry boat, according to the Mayor of Nikopol. The Bulgarian Port of Nikopol is first going to use an older ferry boat which will be making the distance in 15 minutes. A brand new ferry boat is planned to be purchased later.

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