Simeon Ventsislavov: It is not only about resuming cultural activities in Bulgaria, but about their long-term development


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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.

Simeon Ventsislavov studied Screenwriting at NATFA, Sofia. Writer of screenplays for a number of short and feature-length pictures and documentaries such as Directions (fic.); An Unnecessary Hero (doc.) and Rounds (fic.) by Stephan Komandarev; Ága (fic.) by Milko Lazarov; Love by Boya Harizanova, etc.; conducted masterclasses at the Czech FAMU and Talents Sarajevo 2019; lectures Screenwriting at FilmForge, Nu Boyana.

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

A: I never figured out why so many people think that now everybody has more free time and are at a loss for what to do with it. Such people are evidently unaware of a screenwriter’s work. In the first quarter of the year, I self-isolated myself on my own free will, and later it evolved into compulsory self-isolation. I did not feel any difference, though it is a nuisance not to be allowed to go out when and where you want.

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

A: I was working on six new projects and the deadlines of some of them are threateningly impending. News of the global pandemic reached me a month later than the rest of the world.

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

A: Unfortunately, we had to postpone the Screenwriting Courses I conduct for Nu Boyana. From the end of March they were rescheduled for 22 June. I hope that until then life will get back to normal. A global crisis like this one challenges you to think about many things personally, professionally and spiritually. It remains to be seen what life and career decisions will result from all this. I am considering a career change to agronomy.  

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: I am fond of working at home and in this sense, the lockdown made no difference to me. I have a room and equipment to work undisturbed, so I do not have to go out.

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

A: It is impossible to cancel cultural life. It is cultural events that are cancelled. Cultural life is a way of thinking, attitude towards the world. A pandemic can in no way affect them. It is something you have or don’t have. All those who were afraid of being alone with themselves for a while, are certainly crying silently of pain now that the world has been slowing down for a couple of months. Abstinence from living fast strikes first those with lower spirituality.

Q: Your opinion about the impact on creative and research quests and the long-term implications?

A: Emotionally, I hope that everybody will be much more motivated and charged with energy. Financially, it depends on the intelligence of those who are in charge of funding these processes.

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

A: A focused governmental policy to support culture and arts should be thought of as breathing: it has to be applied rather than speculate on whether it is necessary or not, or else the society stops breathing. Such support gives an artist an opportunity to exist physically. Still, artists need audiences for their emotional existence, and they have no audiences at present. Yet, there are mechanisms for each one of us to support artists. Cinemas, theatres and concert halls will reopen some day. Show patience and watch a move on the silver screen, rather than downloading it at home.

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

A: High art moves at a pace invisible to the eye of a boor. It is a fantastic creature going door-to-door to ask people whether or not they want to be cured. Man either seeks art or doesn’t. This is a matter of disposition. Those, who used to go to cinema, concerts, theatres and exhibitions, will continue to do it; those, who didn’t, will further sit on their coaches glued to the TV. I wonder if there is a power that can change this.

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

A: Everybody to be given a BGN100 worth voucher for theatre or cinema. I am joking, of course. It is not only about resuming cultural activities in this country, but about their long-term development. The one chance to change the situation in this country lies in focused and arduous efforts in three main directions: culture, education and mental health. It is vital not to artists alone, but to all of us as a nation, serious attention and funds to be invested in these areas. Who stands to gain from a functionally illiterate society is another story.

Simeon Ventsislavov: It is not only about resuming cultural activities in Bulgaria, but about their long-term development

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