Milko Lazarov • Head, Union of Bulgarian Filmmakers
“We give prominence to those film professionals who usually remain in the shadows”
- Three years into the job, the head honcho of the Union of Bulgarian Filmmakers gives us his take on the importance of the union’s annual awards and their significance to the local industry
Known internationally for his award-winning features Alienation [+see also:
interview: Milko Lazarov
film profile] and Ága [+see also:
interview: Milko Lazarov
film profile], Bulgarian director Milko Lazarov has also occupied the post of head of the Union of Bulgarian Filmmakers for three years already. Following the celebration of the “Vasil Gendov” National Festival of Bulgarian Cinema (2-9 May), on 15 May, the union handed out its annual awards for the first time in a while, following a lengthy break, with Krzysztof Zanussi giving the main Award for Best Film in the Fiction Feature Category to Pavel Vesnakov’s German Lessons [+see also:
interview: Pavel G Vesnakov
film profile]. Additionally, Elitza Gueorguieva’s Our Quiet Place was deemed deserving of the Award for Best Documentary Feature, while Svilen Dimitrov’s Shell in Love scooped the Award for Best Animation. Meanwhile, we chatted with Milko Lazarov about the importance of the awards and their significance to the local industry.
Cineuropa: What convinced you to revive the Union of Bulgarian Filmmakers’ awards?
Milko Lazarov: It was high time to re-establish these traditional awards, which were founded in 1975. They suffered from instability throughout the transformational post-communist period, which was very difficult for Bulgarian cinema. Then they existed for a while during the previous decade, and now, with this return, I hope they will once again play an important role in our national film environment, this time for good. As head of the Union of Bulgarian Filmmakers, I see their reintroduction as a personal responsibility of mine. Our union has existed since 1936 and has survived various regimes and political turmoil with the core mission of highlighting and supporting artistic achievements in cinema. That’s our main focus, since we are not a professional organisation or a syndicate; we are an artistic union. In this regard, the awards are a priority.
They were celebrated along with the “Vasil Gendov” National Festival of Bulgarian Cinema, but there is also the Golden Rose Film Festival for fiction films and the Golden Rhyton for documentaries and animation. Aren’t those enough for such a small film industry?
Firstly, Golden Rose takes place in Varna and Golden Rhyton in Plovdiv (with the sole exception of the last edition, which was celebrated in Sofia owing to the pandemic); therefore, their programmes do not reach the Sofia audience. So, we saw the awards as an excuse to invite audiences to the capital – which, after all, is the most heavily populated city in Bulgaria – to watch an almost exhaustive list of recent Bulgarian film production, which today totals more than 60 films. Secondly, those festivals’ awards highlight artistic achievements in the basic categories only, while the Union of Bulgarian Filmmakers gives out awards to all professional guilds, including the technical ones, without exception, by following the example of the academy awards all over the world. We give prominence to those film professionals who usually remain in the shadows.
Therefore, the “Vasil Gendov” programme encompasses the fiction film selection of Golden Rose, and the documentary and animation selection of Golden Rhyton, correct?
Exactly. Moreover, we have now included titles from the last 18 months. As per the regulations, we consider the last 12 months, but we made an exception due to the pandemic situation. Lots of films were edited during the lockdown without being released, which resulted in an abundant crop of movies, while our festival provided a fairly comprehensive picture of the latest Bulgarian productions: 11 fiction features, 23 feature-length documentaries, nine animated films and more than 20 shorts. It’s a real exuberance that we might not enjoy again any time soon. Our biggest success was the fully packed screening halls, especially in the evening slots. We are also orientated towards young audiences and students, and our goal is to have an educational function as well. Frankly, I did not expect that many viewers, so I was pleasantly surprised.
You chose to name the festival after the pioneer of Bulgarian cinema Vasil Gendov. How important is he to the present-day Bulgarian film industry?
Despite the fact that today, we cannot get a full grasp of his filmography, since only excerpts of his pioneering films have survived, his work had a significant impact on the whole history of our industry, which still resonates today. Apart from creating films with his wife, Zhana Gendova, he developed and involved himself in educational activities, and travelled the country as a film distributor as well. In this sense, Gendov marked the beginning of many branches of the Bulgarian film industry; therefore, for me, it is logical to name the festival and the professional guilds’ awards after him.
How did you decide to invite Krzysztof Zanussi to present the main award for a fiction film?
Many Bulgarian film professionals studied in Poland, such as director Ivan Nichev and my teacher in filmmaking, professor Vladislav Ikonomov. So, there is a big film connection between Bulgaria and Poland in this sense. The Union of Bulgarian Filmmakers shares the views of the Polish professional community, while Zanussi is also deeply related to the educational aspect of cinema, which is important for us. It’s a true honour to have him as a special guest at the festival.
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