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.
Georgi Ivanov is a Bulgarian writer, studied Screenwriting at NBU. Together with Teodora Markova and Nevena Kertova he wrote the screenplays for such critically acclaimed TV shows as Glass Home, Undercover, Father’s Day and for the films Bubblegum (Golden Rose ‘17 for Best Screenplay) and Letters from Antarctica.
Q: What are you doing now during self-isolation at home? Are you making the best use of your time?
A: I was very enthusiastic in the beginning of the lockdown. I thought of the self-isolation as of an opportunity for separating, relaxing, becoming engrossed, thinking and catching up. I have so many excuses for having no time. And as is the case with any crisis, this one succeeded in surprising me and spoiling my plans. Unlike those absorbed in themselves and their creative work, we, my wife and I found ourselves in a whirlwind of our baby’s moods and everyday challenges. Our one-and-a-half-year-old son is in his most progressive period, consuming everything around him, including us! Our endless presence at home piqued his endless interest. Generally speaking, concentrating on other activities was tricky even in relays. The other impact factor was anxiety. It quickly sponges every inspiration. This lockdown is a devastating blow to the entire industry not only in the period under quarantine, but also in the months to come. All productions, events, premieres were cancelled. The future is unclear and unpredictable for the TV channels, filmmaking and advertising. Winning projects are suspended for an unknown period. We had to radically revise our plans. Still, there is time for TV series, films and fiction and, of course, for brainstorming at home.
Q: At what point of your work were you caught up in the COVID-19 crisis?
A: Together with Teodora Markova and Nevena Kertova we were about to begin the principal photography of a new TV show for BNT. We were also working on our next feature film and were looking for foreign partners on a couple of projects. All these activities were put on hold.
Q: How did the pandemic change your everyday life, professional agenda and decisions?
A: I love my profession and I have earned my living for a decade and a half now as a filmmaker alone. Art was severely affected, but filmmaking was globally most badly hit. Making films requires enormous human, financial and time resources; it is impossible both without spectators and film professionals. And most insidiously: filmmaking cannot exist without being made continuously, because it is an interdependent cycle. Completing a film, one invests the revenues in the next one and so on. With this process stopped, everything comes to a halt. In this crisis I arrived at two conclusions: first, staying at home, people are badly in need of art. Second, in such crises politicians and authorities appear to easily sacrifice art first of all. Or this is how things seem to be in our country.
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: It is very difficult having one or more toddlers at home. Even isolated in a room of my own, the family context is distracting or at least distracts me from my work. I am all the time tempted to join the rest of the family. And the availability of my slippers isn’t in itself quite disciplinary.
Q: What smouldering problematic subjects surfaced as a result of self-isolation and with all activities across Bulgaria and the world cancelled?
A: What I hoped for in this period were talks about the meaning of art in general, rather than about survival as such; about culture and arts being a vital factor in the development of a society; about how important it is in times of crisis not to turn our backs on art, as art inspires and gives a meaning and answers to many questions. As I mentioned above, this creative production line not just stops for a couple of months, but because of its nature it stops in fact for months or even years.
Q: Your opinion about the impact on creative and research quests and the long-term implications?
A: I expect a wave of works addressing directly or indirectly isolation, control, trust in science and authorities, family. This is the mission of artists: give the case a form, analyse and urge us to interpret that could help in a similar crisis. I expect also many to give up on art as a career, because in such situations they find themselves in an unfavourable and very distressing position. Many studios, artists, musicians and even technicians in the industry will look for a change of direction in their career path that would not be that risky in the future.
I feel like broaching a every unpleasant topic, circulating widely within some far-right circles, to the effect that nobody owes anything to freelance artists .There were insinuations that gifted artists shall survive with all these online concerts. I heard that an unemployed actor should become a cleaner. ‘Cleaner’ is not negatively charged here, but rather stunning is the lack of understanding how necessary art is. It is surprising that actors became the epitome of the crisis, when in fact in the making, say, of a film hundreds of people are involved and nobody of them is working now. How can a good camera operator, for example, or a camera crane operator develop their talent, and earn their living at that?
Q: Where do you expect to get support in the declared state of emergency over Covid-19?
A: I expect that Europe will come up with an overarching mechanism to support freelancers and freelance artists. Apparently, we don’t have adequate national measures. Helicopter money is no good. No, we do not want to live on handouts that would pit us against each other, rather than appease the anger. People working in cultural and creative industries simply want a chance to work, as they were stopped by force rather than choice. I think that now there will be no better support than creating more conditions for work, more grants for projects, performances, films.
Q: What about the therapeutic role of art in the resocialization after the pandemic ends?
A: Art comforts, gives answers, creates a feeling of power and independence, analyses the surrounding world, humbles and at times incites revolutions. Staying at home, almost everybody consumed art. And behind each so easily available artwork there are many hours of hard work, talent, experience, people.
Q: Any ideas about how to resume this country’s cultural activities after the end of the pandemic?
A: I’ll repeat that the only thing cultural industry need is a chance to work. This will be made possible by offering more grants and programmes. Lifting bans will also have a positive impact, of course. It is a paradox to witness large groups of people allowed to flock together in each park, and at theatres only 30% of the available seats shall be filled. I sincerely hope that the style of the authorities’ rhetoric will change from disparaging to respectful.