Bulgarian director puts country on the map
Bulgarian-born director Maya Vitkova has had a very busy few months promoting her feature debut, Viktoria - the first Bulgarian feature to screen in competition at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.
Born in Sofia, Vitkova previously worked in the film business as a casting director and assistant, so she knows a thing or two about the industry.
On top of this she is no stranger to high profile international festivals – for example, in 2009 she executive produced the feature film Eastern Plays from director Kamen Kalev, which showed at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight.
Vitkova recently returned from Rotterdam where she attended the film’s European premiere, and took time out to talk to us about her experiences making the film, and why she thinks Bulgaria is so appealing to filmmakers.
Her latest project, Viktoria, is Vitkova’s first feature as director, and is produced by Mandragora (Romanian director Cristi Puiu's company) along with the shingle she founded six years ago, Viktoria Films.
The film centres on a mother-daughter relationship, portrayed over many years and set against an epic historical backdrop of political change and individual hope.
“The film took six and a half weeks to shoot”, Vitkova says. “The story is actually told in three parts, but we had two shooting periods in order to portray four seasons in the film. Bulgaria is known for its clearly defined seasons, which makes it visually very exciting.”
In terms of crew it must have been no easy feat as the director can’t give us an exact amount of those involved. “But”, she adds, “there were well over one hundred.”
Location scouting via an unconventional route
Clearly a go-getter, Vitkova didn’t use a location manager, preferring instead to source the outdoor sets herself.
After finding some likely locations, she brought along her DoP Krum Rodriguez to complete the second viewing round with her.
“And after that, the production designer joined us and we went back and visited the locations a number of times. So you could say it was back to front. Also we didn’t use a studio. I am an experienced 1st AD and have done plenty of location scouting myself, so it was all fine.”
Agencies, commissions and funding
All kinds of collaboration with, for example, financiers, agencies and film commissions are a necessity. As is often the case with feature film production, it is a multi-stranded affair.
“We were in regular communication with the Bulgarian National Film Center,” Vitkova explains, “as they provided the production funding for the film. We had to give them reports while in pre-production, during the shoot and while we carried out the post-production.
“We also had support from the Pernik Municipality [an area in the west of the country]. They provided a number of key shooting locations for the film.
“The Sofia Municipality assisted us as with a number of permits and helped us pay various fees, which was time consuming, but we did manage it.
“However, if you are asking if there is an agency that exists solely to provide help with all aspects, no. You need to be in touch with a production service company for that.”
The secret locations
The director was protective over her hard-won locations, and was reluctant to be specific about revealing them.
“I won't provide you with the names of the locations as it means everyone could go and shoot
there. We found them ourselves,” Vitkova rightly points out. She reveals that it was hard work and adds, “this is why there are companies who provide you with the right people to source them for you.”
Vitkova did, however, go on to explain a little more about the range of locations used, and the style and atmosphere they created.
“Mainly, we needed locations that looked like the 1970s, the ’80s and the ‘90s. That is still perfectly possible in Bulgaria.
“Of course, a lot still had to be done in terms of design and repair in order to fit the needs of the film. We used so many locations, and they were all amazing.
“Apart from the interiors and exteriors, and the two different cities, we also covered a serious distance, which made for an interesting experience. Some of the film was shot in the mountains – one of the hardest locations as the temperature was as low as minus 15 degrees Celsius and the wind was blowing at 100km an hour. Towards the end of filming, we’d almost reached Venice!”
Bulgaria, a mix of old meets new
When we talked to Vitkova about the attraction of Bulgaria to filmmakers, it was clear to discern the director’s national pride. But, having worked with many different crews, she could also be objective about the country and just how many benefits it can offer to anyone thinking of filming there.
“Bulgaria is an interesting location, as it is a mixture of old and new. I feel there's still a lot to come, as the country is constantly changing. The great part is the nature though, we have everything - and I am not exaggerating; it’s the truth.
“I've worked for the BBC, SkyOne and the National Geographic Channnel and I know how foreign crews react: when they see what Bulgaria has to offer they are simply amazed. I just love it - you can shoot in the city, then go to the mountains, the coast, pretty much everywhere.
“It is so versatile, it can look like any other part of the world, but it is still just one place, my country, Bulgaria.”
We would like to thank Maya Vitkova for sharing her experience and insight into Bulgaria. Have you filmed in the country? Let us know via our Facebook page or leave your comments below.