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BLACK NIGHTS 2020 Competition

Ivaylo Hristov • Director of Fear

“I have always been interested in people who find the courage to state and defend their point of view”

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- We chatted with Bulgarian director Ivaylo Hristov, who is competing at Tallinn Black Nights with his fourth feature, the immigrant fable Fear

Ivaylo Hristov • Director of Fear

After winning the top award at the Golden Rose Film Festival (see the news), Bulgaria’s biggest gathering for local films, Bulgarian director Ivaylo Hristov’s Fear [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ivaylo Hristov
film profile
]
makes its international debut in the main competition of Tallinn Black Nights. Here is what the director has to say about his film, which puts a funny spin on the refugee crisis.

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Cineuropa: The idea of writing Fear came to you after you witnessed a dramatic situation, when refugees travelling through Bulgaria in a van were arrested right in front of you. How did you use this when writing the screenplay?
Ivaylo Hristov:
For years now, a few friends and I have been spending every summer holiday in a village near the border with Turkey. In the evening, after the incident with the refugees, we were having dinner at the hotel restaurant and, of course, talked about what we had seen. The conversation was not serious; on the contrary, we were joking about it! You know those conversations with friends where the laughter is directly proportional to the quantity of brandy ingested.

I was joking, too, but I felt like something was wrong, like something had got lodged in my mind and kept bringing me back to the refugee van. What had happened in front of me seemed like footage from a movie. The sequences swirled in my mind: the glowing asphalt of the road, the bright lights of the police cars, the opening of the van doors, and in there – sweaty men's faces, women with burqas on their heads, and huge, frightened children's eyes. Somehow, in this series of shots, my face appeared as well, distorted with horror… Then, I understood! What had disturbed my mind was the feeling of shame. I was ashamed of the fear I felt the moment I saw the van with the refugees in it. It was not sympathy, nor a desire to help, but fear. To overcome that fear, I wrote the script, and I hope the film will help other people as well.

In fact, the refugee topic is just a background, a necessary environment in which to flesh out the plot and bring out the opposition between society and the individual. I have always been interested in people who find the courage to state and defend their point of view, no matter the price for them. The protagonist in the film goes through a difficult change, from a lonely and unemployed provincial teacher to a person who proudly declares to government officials, “According to the law, the state is me!”

What is your personal opinion on the immigrant crisis in Europe, and what do you think Bulgaria's position should be regarding the crisis? Do you think Fear is a political film?
I have never believed in building wire fences; moreover, they disgust me. We all remember a wall that divided the world in two, but that fell down, too. It took years, yet it fell down eventually. It is the walls in people's heads that are still the big problem. Fear of the "other" or of the "stranger" is the most serious problem. Unfortunately, politicians generate and fan the flames of this fear. I hate aggressive and xenophobic politics. In that sense, I agree that Fear is a political film.

At the end of your film, you play a mysterious character accompanying Svetla and Bamba on their way out of the village. It seems like the film's only two positive characters are practically cast out of the story. Is that a comment on Bulgarian society?
My appearance in the film is, so to speak, a wink, a personal joke with myself. I, as the author, put obstacles in front of my characters throughout the film and set traps for them; sometimes I took care of them, hoping that their love would happen here and now, but I failed, and for that reason, I told them, “I've had it up to here!” and I let them seek their happiness somewhere else in the world – in some beautiful and friendlier place, whether it is Africa, America, or even Antarctica.

Do you have concerns about how your film will be able to reach audiences in the times of the pandemic?
Of course, I worry a lot. For me, cinema continues to be an art, not an industry, and in this sense, I believe that it is the cinema where a serious "conversation" between the viewers and the film takes place. Closed cinemas are a very sad sight, but I am optimistic: we are now very close to the discovery of a COVID-19 vaccine. Long live the scientists!

How would you comment on the solutions found by the Bulgarian institutions to diminish the effect the pandemic is having on the local film industry?
Their intentions are commendable, but first, let us see these solutions come to fruition, and then we can comment.

Are you developing a new feature? What is it about?
Just like many other people, I abide by the epidemiological measures, and I stay at home in front of my computer. While doing so, I have managed to write some new scripts. In one of them, I study the break-up of a family and its consequences. However, it will be some time until the film is made. Let’s hope we will be safe and sound!

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