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Jana Karaivanova • Executive director, Bulgarian National Film Center

“Financing is never good enough with film”

by 

- A revealing talk about the challenges in the Bulgarian film industry and the necessary changes to the local cinema law with Jana Karaivanova, the new head of the Bulgarian National Film Center

Jana Karaivanova  • Executive director, Bulgarian National Film Center

With a career encompassing acting in theatre and film, and producing and founding a Bulgarian film festival in New York and a much-needed independent film festival in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, Jana Karaivanova was appointed executive director of the Bulgarian National Film Center at the end of October last year. Here is what she thinks about the changes needed to make the local film industry more competitive and more welcoming for new talent.

Cineuropa: What are the most important aspects that need to be changed in Bulgaria, from a cinema law point of view?
Jana Karaivanova:
 I have been director for only four months now, so I come straight from the people who know that the law has to be changed. We are still using the first cinema law ever adopted in Bulgaria. It was very good then, as it regulated the industry when it had to become private instead of being owned by the state; but our industry is moving so quickly that now that law is very outdated. One of the problems is that the law is very complicated and there are many details set in stone – details that would be more appropriate in other judicial documents that are more flexible and easier to change, as they don’t need to go through the parliament or through the ministries for every little modification. Everyone believes the law needs to be simplified so that it will comprise the foundation of the rules the industry has to comply with, with separate, more flexible regulations taking care of the rest.

One component of the law that few seem to be happy with are the commissions that evaluate the film projects, and indeed the whole evaluation process. Now these commissions consist of nine members appointed by professional associations, and many filmmakers are questioning the reliability of these members or the various possibilities of conflict of interest in the whole procedure. The entire selection process has to be completely transparent. This would create a more peaceful atmosphere and trust, which is very important.

The previous directors of the centre created working groups that tried to change the law, and their list of necessary changes was submitted for consideration by the film professionals, who gave their feedback. Now we have what I can call a first draft of suggested changes, and we are trying to push it forward very quickly – the sooner the better. The filmmakers were divided at some point, and now I am happy to say that the atmosphere is positive and the most important of these suggested changes have been approved by almost all of the film associations. For me, it will be a very important task to nurture this positive atmosphere and this lack of conflicts, as this will help us to end up with a good law. My opinion is that we have to rely heavily on the good example set by similar laws in Europe, as their bright ideas should be incorporated into our law. 

What do you think is the biggest strength of Bulgarian cinema nowadays?
I think it is the perseverance of the directors, and I also truly believe that those who make film now in Bulgaria are really talented. The funding is not that good, but financing is never good enough with film. That’s the name of the game in our industry. We cannot finance enough projects to guarantee that everyone in the industry will be working. This creates a certain tension, and it requires strength and patience in order to keep your creative juices flowing and, when you finally receive the financing, to be able to deliver. There are some good examples of people in our industry who managed to do this. To me, this spiritual and creative strength, this perseverance, this grit, is the biggest asset in our industry. As the centre’s director, I will try to quickly adapt the administrative framework, be it the cinema law or the financing process. 

The new voices are of paramount importance. What does the centre plan to do in order to give upcoming directors a bigger push?
For example, for the most recent call for projects, we earmarked more money for project development – significantly more, in fact, three times more than for the previous call. Winning this amount of money gives the director the chance to think solely about developing the project. This is a great help for young filmmakers because they are able to set everything aside and just focus on the screenplay. Also, for this call, we will upgrade the so-called low-budget session, with a bigger amount set aside for this kind of project. In the future, I hope we will be able to give even more money to low-budget films. Another thing I would like for the new law is the possibility to finance projects that have already been produced with private money. We have a very vibrant independent sector in Bulgaria. These are the bravest people, and some of their films are so good and could be even better. They could receive help for a professional post-production process. 

Another important aspect is workshops and master classes that would teach young filmmakers more about their craft. It is possible, but it never used to be done very much before. We can collaborate with film schools so that they will invite European professionals to attend to lead workshops. Every filmmaker in Bulgaria would like to go outside the country, receive recognition abroad, and have his or her film seen abroad, and these workshops could help them.

Speaking of being seen, are there any plans to improve distribution in Bulgaria? What is the state of the old cinema network like?
The distribution network is virtually in ruins or at least is in a very bad condition. And there is another problem: the VPF [Virtual Print Fee] taxes, from when the cinemas were digitalising their screens. The ten-year period when you were supposed to pay this tax ended in 2017, but the tax is still being paid. For the private cinemas, it is a nice chunk of money when they receive these VPF taxes, and I will have to lead a difficult battle so that we can get rid of this tax. I hope the cinemas will understand. 

Also, the cinemas are required by law to reserve 5% of their shows for Bulgarian films, and they don’t always observe this requirement. I will try to push them in this direction and also in the direction of programming Bulgarian films at better times. And I think cinemas will be open because lately, Bulgarian films have been doing great on a national level, in terms of attendance. We have had five or six films that topped the box office, which would make things easier when it comes to this kind of negotiation.

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