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.
Stanislav Donchev is a Bulgarian writer/director/producer. He has an AM in Film and TV Directing from NBU, Sofia. His feature debut Wanted (1999) received the Best Student Movie Award at Golden Rose BFFF 2000. He directed Experts (fic.), Rapid Response Corps (fic.), Rapid Response Corps 2 (fic.), A Dream of Happiness (doc.), as well as TV stories and serials and produced Bubblegum. Lectured at NBU (2003–2014). Letters from Antarctica (2019) is his latest picture as a director and producer.
Q: What are you doing now during self-isolation at home? Are you making the best use of your time?
A: The isolation did not actually come as a shock to me, given my way of living and working. I am not working nine to five; I am a freelancer. I usually devote a lot of time, mostly at home, developing a new film project. So, I can safely say that I have been bracing myself for going into quarantine all my life.
Q: At what point of your work were you caught up in the COVID-19 crisis?
A: The state of emergency was declared midway through the shooting of my documentary The Little Marchioness on the premises of the Institute of Art Studies. Unfortunately, the shooting was suspended and though we succeeded in making the best part of the film, such a downtime is not productive as I and the entire crew was well geared up for work, immersed in the atmosphere and on the go, and then we had to stop right before the end. Still, this is beyond our control and we have to cope with the situation as it is. On the other hand, with the extended submission deadline by the Bulgarian National Film Center we had enough time to fine-tune our new projects.
Q: How did the pandemic change your everyday life, professional agenda and decisions?
A: I have more time for thinking. No major changes for now.
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: Our living conditions are cramped, which is difficult. My son is a YouTube vlogger, he plays TV games, but makes time for me. We are leading almost the same life. Our family is fond of spending a lot of time together and almost always in the same room, so it is only natural.
Q: What smouldering problematic subjects surfaced as a result of self-isolation and with all activities across Bulgaria and the world cancelled?
A: Football players proved to be vastly overestimated and overpaid. This has been a smouldering issue in need of regulation. Seriously, I think that theatremakers face difficult times. Many were dismissed from their jobs and this field needs support and interference. The impact on performing arts will be devastating, and for a long period too. After the lockdown ends, fears of bringing together so many sneezing and coughing people will persist and such a long disruption to audience activities may prove fatal. I do not know for certain, but the outlook is bleak for the creative sector.
Q: Your opinion about the impact on creative and research quests and the long-term implications?
A: Everybody is trying and some succeed in going online, which is fine and helpful for now. It suits me perfectly and I’m all for. Until power supply is cut and the Internet fails. Then we all will turn to the physical world.
Q: Where do you expect to get support in the declared state of emergency over Covid-19?
A: I expect support from my nearest and dearest and from my friends. If the question suggests some special grants, well, no. I have been isolated for a month now and I am coping financially for the time being. Quarantine or no quarantine, filmmakers are used to long periods of the so-called ‘project development’, i.e. to not receiving money for a long time. Yet, the country went into national quarantine only a month ago, but what if it takes six months or a year? Where to find support? The government will certainly help one way or the other; yet, public funds will also run dry after a longer period.
Q: What about the therapeutic role of art in the resocialization after the pandemic ends?
A: Art helps all the time: before, during and after the end of the crisis. It is at such psychologically distressing moments that we use arts to keep our minds and hopes intact. In this regard we decided jointly with Nova TV as our media partner to broadcast my latest picture Letters from Antarctica months earlier than planned to be watched by as many viewers as possible what with the cinemas closed for who knows how long.
Q: Any ideas about how to resume this country’s cultural activities after the end of the pandemic?
A: This question should be addressed to the administration and the Ministry of Culture. Let’s first see when and how it will come to an end and then think! I have other projects to shoot and complete, looking forward to returning to normality and people dying from other diseases as well, but leading a fuller life until then.