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Stephan Komandarev • Director

“The main reason for making this film was to spark a debate in Bulgaria”


- CANNES 2017: We chatted to Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev about his fourth feature, Directions, shown in this year’s Un Certain Regard

Stephan Komandarev  • Director

Almost a decade after his The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner [+see also:
film profile
 was shown at dozens of festivals all around the globe, Stephan Komandarev premiered his social drama Directions [+see also:
film review
interview: Stephan Komandarev
film profile
 at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Here is what the screenwriter-director has to say about this film, which explores Bulgaria’s difficult social issues.

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Cineuropa: Directions presents a wide array of issues that Bulgaria is facing now; do you expect it to spark a public debate?
Stephan Komandarev:
 This was the main reason for making the film – to spark a debate in Bulgaria about the current situation. The first step to try to change something in a positive way is to paint a realistic picture of today’s Bulgaria. And this is not the picture that we can see in the media. We will organise a strong campaign for the release of the film in order to make it as visible as possible. After this, the movie will be broadcasted by our co-producer, the Bulgarian National Television.

You shot every episode in a single take. Why this decision, and which scene proved the most difficult to shoot? How many takes did you have to do before you were satisfied?
We made the decision to shoot every episode in a single take in order to build an atmosphere of realism and authenticity. But there was a long process of rehearsals. Before principal photography started, the entire film was shot once with a small camera and with all the actors on the set. As a kind of preparation, this was extremely helpful. We edited this initial footage and ended up with a 110-minute cut before starting the main shoot. One of the biggest difficulties was that the actors were playing taxi drivers and had to play their parts while driving in real traffic on the streets of Sofia. The first episode was hard mainly because of the daytime traffic – we needed ten takes. The episode on the bridge was also problematic: it is 18 minutes long, shot by three DoPs, with the camera first in the car, then on the bridge, then on a crane in front of the bridge, and finally back in the car. Here we also shot ten takes. From the actors’ point of view, the most difficult was the final one, shot in three takes.

In the director’s notes, you say that at least some of the film’s episodes are based on real-life experiences. As a screenwriter-director, do you thrive on a connection with reality? Or do you prefer fiction?
Some of the film's episodes were inspired by real events. And for me, it was important to maintain this feeling of reality, especially for this film. Of course, during the development of the script, we changed many things in order to build stronger stories. We did this mainly during our work on the script at the Mediterranean Film Institute workshops.

When do you want to release the film in Bulgaria, and how do you plan to promote it?
We are planning the release for the end of the year or the beginning of next. The selection in Un Certain Regard at Cannes and the positive reactions to the movie have already created a buzz for the film. And we have also been invited to many important festivals over the coming months, which will boost the national release for sure. Plus, the campaign will also benefit from the fact that our film stars many of the most popular Bulgarian actors. 

You already have a new feature in development. Can you say what it is about?
During our preparation and location scouting for Directions, I travelled 12,000 kilometres across Sofia by night. We discovered that there were three types of cars that you can come across on the streets of Sofia: taxi cabs, police patrol cars and ambulances. At the moment, we are working on stories set in the police patrol cars.

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