Platform for Arts, Institute of Art Studies, BAS, did a series of exclusive interviews with this country’s leading artists and art historians about how does it feel to make art amid the coronavirus pandemic, about its impact on culture and long-term implications.
Assen Vladimirov is a Bulgarian director/writer/producer. Worked for Vreme Film Studio to then set up his ProFilm. Producer/writer/director/co-director of over 50 documentaries and feature films such as Ehrnrooth, Reconstruction, Encounters with Jireček (co-dir. Yuli Stoyanov), A Farewell to Hemingway (with Svetoslav Stoyanov), Losers, Footsteps in the Sand (with Ivailo Hristov), Of Men and Bears, Cambridge (with Eldora Traykova), The Bookseller (co-dir. Catherine Bernstein), etc. His Pawn Sacrifice won Golden Rhyton for Best Documentary. Plovdiv ‘19.
Q: What are you doing now during self-isolation at home? Are you making the best use of your time?
A: As most of us, I am reading, cooking, chatting with friends using Zoom, a word I learned just now. Watching a lot of movies, of course. Luis Buñuel is my favourite director and I decided to view his complete films again. With aging one finds new things in his pictures and one’s acquired experience makes one admire greatly the easiness with which he builds the story, the structure, his sense of humour, challenges, his play with spectator’s perception. What a man! At the age of 49, already acclaimed internationally, as if challenged by the 1968 riots in France he made The Milky Way, so innovative, inventive, sarcastic, picaresque, where the story freely changes times and places. The film seemed to have fallen under the radar, but this was this movie that gave him energy for his next works in the same manner: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Spectre of Freedom and That Obscure Object of Desire.
Q: At what point of your work were you caught up in the COVID-19 crisis?
A: I was finalising in my capacity as the producer Fear, a new feature film, director/writer Ivailo Hristov; director of photography Emil Hristov. I am also the producer of Eldora Traykova’s new documentary, Erasing, director of photography Emil Hristov. The editing was almost completed and we were preparing for the postproduction of sound design.
Q: How did the pandemic change your everyday life, professional agenda and decisions?
A: All pre-planned trips abroad were, of course, cancelled. We all are learning how to live with the virus now, the world will never be the same again and I am trying to work this out and not think of it as of a tragedy. I had to revise my professional plans too. I am afraid about the distribution of Fear, when, if ever, its theatrical release will be. We intended to submit it to several international festivals, but now their schedules are unclear.
Q: Do you have a room of your own to work in or you find it difficult to isolate yourself, taking care of young children or students?
A: Thank God I have enough room of my own. Our children have grown up long ago and do not live with us. My 9-year-old grandson was born and lives in the USA. I’d be only happy if he was here, trotting about our flat from time to time and ‘keeping’ us from our work. Unfortunately, we would hardly see him and our daughter this or next year, until international air travel returns to normal.
Q: What smouldering problematic subjects surfaced as a result of self-isolation and with all activities across Bulgaria and the world cancelled?
A: The coronavirus caught self-conceited humanity, who was entranced by the breakthrough technologies and about to step on Mars, completely unawares. I do not know if the pandemic will serve as a lesson to us, rather not until the next crisis.
Cancelling all cultural activities across Bulgaria and the world will have long-term implications. Indeed, museums, galleries, opera houses, theatres, festivals did their best to go online, and in some cases partially succeeded. Still, there is nothing like audiences contacting live with art and re-establishing this contact will take some time. It would be naive of us to believe that visitors eager for cultural experience would rush to art galleries, theatres and cinemas with the lifting of the lockdown. Highly unlikely…
Q: Your opinion about the impact on creative and research quests and the long-term implications?
A: I expect filmmaking to change after the end of the pandemic. Do spectators expect the same subject treated in the same way, I wonder? I think that there will be a wave of movies about the pandemic. From psychological drama to horror films. These would hardly be masterpieces. Good films about WWI and WWII were made a whole decade after the end of those wars. I expect many documentaries to be made on the subject. I read that Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky is planning to make such a film, asking people from across Russia to send him their videos and stories about their experience.
Q: Where do you expect to get support in the declared state of emergency over Covid-19?
A: Honestly, from nowhere. Neither as a natural person, nor my ProFilm Company fit in the governmental support measures. So, it’s time to tighten our belts financially.
Q: What about the therapeutic role of art in the resocialization after the pandemic ends?
A: Art won’t be much help, I suppose. Still, I wise man talked about ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’. Each crisis can be an opportunity, they say. It is easier to fight Covid-19 than the virus of consumerism that has spread around the world, or the so-called developed world, where Bulgaria belongs. In the mornings, going to the office and passing by a mall in Sofia, I see mothers with prams or holding their kids by hand flocking into the edifice. It is already clear how their young minds will be moulded. Maybe Bulgarian films have to try and speak about this using artistic devices. May the pandemic make us wiser and rearrange our values!
Q: Any ideas about how to resume this country’s cultural activities after the end of the pandemic?
A: It is high time the ridiculous budget of the Ministry of Culture to be increased. As far as know, the funding for filmmaking will remain at the same rates next year, though the inflation in the industry is higher compared with other industries. In the last couple of decades tens of young people studied filming at several universities and have the right of making careers.
There is a general lack of understanding about how funds are spent in filmmaking. The money goes not only to writers, directors and producers, but also to cast and crew, transport companies, hotels, catering, to hundreds of people employed in various industries.
BNT should be more actively involved in funding Bulgarian film industry, which the channel must do in conformity with the law. And we all know that the law should be obeyed.