Kostadin Bonev: Art was the best cure for the imposed lockdown


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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.

Kostadin Bonev is a Bulgarian director, winner of many national and international awards; member of the International Documentary Association (IDA). He was born in 1951, in Triavna. Graduated in Theatre Studies at NATFA in 1980; undertook postgraduate studies in Film and TV Directing (1990) under the tutelage of Prof. Georgi Djulgerov. His Letters to the Netherworld won two prizes in Varna and Best Film in St Petersburg, in 1995, Critics’ Choice Awards for Under a Cloud and The Patience of the Stone at Golden Rhyton Festivals, Plovdiv; the latter received also Silver Knight Award, Kiev. He won four times the Best Director Annual Award of the Union of Bulgarian Filmmakers. He lectures at NATFA and Faculty of Arts, SWU, Blagoevgrad. His latest feature film is Away from the Shore.

Photo: Preslav Belev

Q: What are you doing now in self-isolation at home? Are you making the best use of your time?

A: Peace and quiet are illusionary in such situations. Noise, contacts and meeting friends feed off productive work. A suggested idea, overheard snippets of conversations unlock hidden energies. They feed off my endeavours. That is why I use this time for accumulation, postponing the proper work.

Q: At what point of your work were you caught up in the COVID-19 crisis?

A: I am working on my new documentary. Records are waiting for me at the Archives State Agency and the National Library, but the lockdown has to be lifted first.

Q: How did the pandemic change your everyday life, professional agenda and decisions?

A: Men nowadays are fatalists. They accept as signs even facts that possibly occur by chance or happenstance. The more sensitive of them are looking inside themselves in search of the guilt, bringing to light old mistakes to put down to them the situation they have found themselves in. Thus many felt the pandemic like a punishment for past sins. The lockdown brought to the fore the transitoriness of human activities. Transitoriness taught us not to map out long-term strategic plans. I got used to the idea that the world would not collapse because of making not my next movie. Globally, it will be not missed at all.

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: Except for my wife, from whom I am inseparable, my nearest and dearest are not here and I miss them. I haven’t seen my children for over two months now. I have the time and the room, but this does not suffice to work productively.

Q: What smouldering problematic subjects surfaced as a result of self-isolation and with all activities across Bulgaria and the world cancelled?

A: Most of us found that the world does not exist outside us, but rather is within ourselves, which means that the world can be mastered, if nor controlled. It is not like I didn’t know it earlier, but now this truth became apparent. Do you remember Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure? A second of horror, and a couple’s relationship disintegrates. The social aspect of the pandemic is a whole new ball game. Many people lost their most important benchmark, their professions as the meaning of their existence. They lost the opportunity to get their message across to the public. This global problem cannot be solved by welfare benefits.

Photo: Preslav Belev

Q: Where do you expect to get support in the declared state of emergency over Covid-19?

A: I rely only on myself, and on the one who shares my self-isolation with me. I know that we will get through this together. I am self-deluded that I know how. If I am proved wrong, it will be great fun!

Q: What about the therapeutic role of art in the resocialization after the pandemic ends?

A: Appreciated or not, art was the best cure for the imposed lockdown. Art helped us not to pack psychiatric hospitals. Adults like kids who never grow up, can’t live without fairy tales; can’t fall asleep without them. In this sense, all of us, who make films, theatre or music, make a difference in people’s lives. The world would have been blown apart without us. Like in Zabriskie Point. We are the medicine men, who know the recipe for the wonderworking herbal remedy that would help people cure themselves. That’s that. We can help only those, who have the willpower to cure themselves.

Q: Any ideas about how to resume this country’s cultural activities after the end of the pandemic?

A: The pandemic taught me to know my place. Culture needs rehabilitation; remedial measures. In other words, care. But in Bulgaria they never ask those who know the answers.

Well, that’s all from me. May God bless you with good health! See you soon.

Kostadin Bonev: Art was the best cure for the imposed lockdown

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