Thursday, April 20, 2006
Sofia Film Fest in Plovdiv – Personal report and impressions (part I)
The traditional 10th Sofia Film Fest took place as usual from 9 to 19 March. For the first time this year the festival was spread outside the capital. Movies were to be shown in Bourgas and Plovdiv.
16 March – Day one of the Plovdiv program. Here I am, missing the Latin classes and heading towards Lucky Cinema. I was there about an hour earlier than the scheduled opening of the festival, expecting to find the place full of guests and journalists. Instead of that I found myself in the nearly empty entrance hall of the cinema. There were only a few bored staff members preparing lights and a table for the cocktail. So I sat in the hall, reading the last pages of Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and waiting for something to happen. About 17.45 came some important looking people, followed by some more important looking people and soon the place was crawling with local journalists. I put on my glasses and looked around for someone familiar. I got the usual festival feeling – everyone is someone, everyone knows someone, nearly all of them wear badges with their names… Only I stand aside trying to be a part of the big thing but no one seems to notice me, like a puppy running around the table, waving his tail and waiting to be scratched behind the ears. A man looking for a seat approached me and I moved my backpack making some space for him on the bench. “Damn, he looks so much like… Rangel Valchanov” – I thought as the man near me. I wasn’t really sure if this is really him, and I tried not to stare at him. “Should I talk to him? Is he really…?” And after some time the man walked away, talked with some of the guests and went out of my sight.
A spokesman greeted the guests with the typical “Thank you everyone for coming here tonight” and such and invited everyone at the cocktail. The guests head on to the table and I still wonder if the cocktail is for everybody or just for the guys with the badges. But finally the puppy got tired of waiting for someone to throw him a bone. I went to the table, took a beer and a nice looking girl opened the bottle for me and smiled. I looked around for something like appetizer and…I felt ashamed. The people around acted like they had never seen food. Snatching the sandwiches, taking away the ham, crossing their forks fighting for salad… One of them even stole the whole pineapple from the fruit salad and hid it in his bag! Makes you wonder who’s the hungry student here, huh?
But the real shame was just about to start. The announcer said a few cliché’s a-la “the movies are magic” and introduced the first special guest. Guess who? Julia Roberts! “No chance!” and “Yeah, right” were heard from the small crowd around. And some chick in fancy dress goes down the stairs, says a couple of words in bad English and goes away. Not that I expected any different but… Followed some more models (models is perhaps too strong, if you were close enough you could see that they were more like crocodiles with make-up), the so called Jennifer Lopez, Angelina Jolie, Calista Flockhart (she was so deep in her acting that she even nearly fell down the stairs, but the announcer caught her) and Catherine Zeta-Jones. In most of the cases the only resemblance to the original was the hair color. I don’t know if this was meant to be a self –parody, but that’s what it was. I mean, come on, we all know that this isn’t Hollywood. But there were REALLY some special guests – I noticed two young French actresses among the people, several directors… They could introduce them instead of some poor try to be original and funny.
And just when I thought that the opening of the fest is complete failure there came a guy to give a speech. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you Rangel Valchanov”. So I wasn’t wrong! It was him after all. Rangel Valshanov really managed to cheer the crowd up with his witty little speech - “I’m really glad that you’re all here tonight. You wanna know why? There’s a football game going on on the TV at this very same moment. Some guys are trying to kick a ball. But you’ve said “Blah, I don’t wanna watch this crap!” and here you are – in the cinema, supporting this festival, filling your cultural gaps…if you have any.”
After the speech he walked around talking to some people. I wanted to exchange a few words with him from the moment I saw him so… I finished my second Stella Artois, plucked up some courage and approached him. “Uh… I just wanted to say “Hi”, cause, you know, I don’t see Rangel Valchanov every day and if I miss the chance tomorrow I’ll probably say to myself “Damn, I stare at Rangel Valchanov all the evening and I didn’t even say Hi” – I said. Probably the most stupid “Hi” I’ve ever said to someone… Then we talked about the fest a little bit, he strongly recommended me to see “Capote” and when heard about my ambitions to study for a movie director he said with a smile “Go!”
The movie which opened the Sofia Film Fest in Plovdiv was “L’Enfant” (“The Child”) – Belgium-French production, awarded with Golden Palm at Cannes 2005. The following days the atmosphere of the fest was calm and peaceful, one could easily go to the cinema without noticing anything special except the festival posters. The program included two movies per day. Each day there was a special festival guest, who shared his impressions with the audience after the screenings of the movies. Among the guests were Zornitsa Sophia, the widely discussed director of “Mila from Mars” and Vesela Kazakova, Mila herself. Vesela Kazakova already has a numerous awards after starring in some of the most successful Bulgarian films for the last couple of years (“Crazy Day”, “Mila from Mars”, “Stolen Eyes”). Now that she was granted the Best Actress Award at the Moscow Film Festival, 2005 she’s getting even more popular. I met her at the entrance hall of Lucky Cinema one evening. Surrounded by a couple of journalists and the local idiot Stefcho The Autograph (an impudent maniac that goes on every event he can, waving around a shabby notebook, collecting autographs from anyone. The poor guy believes that he’ll be in Guinness World Records). Finally after most of the pesterers went away I managed to meet Vesela Kazakova. Even if she was under pressure she was kind enough to give me an autograph and talk with me for a while. Unfortunately she had no spare time at all and she was going back to Sofia the next morning so she kindly refused my invitation for a drink.
Full list of the titles included in the fest plus their annotations and reviews was printed in the free SFF guide (and still can be found online at http://www.cinema.bg/sff/ ). The price of the tickets was 4 leva for studends, which is 1 lev above the usual ticket price in Plovdiv (not to mention that there are two cinemas which show movies for 1 lev only!). There were some special offers – buy a special card and watch the movies cheaper, but even that wasn’t attractive enough for me. You just cannot afford to see all the movies. Many people preferred to download them from the net and watch them at home.
End of Part I - To Be Continued...