The very history of the Balkan Documentary Center hints at the many issues media professionals have to deal with in Bulgaria: "In the 90s the team of Martichka Bozhilova, producer and art manager, and Georgi Bogdanov and Boris Missirkov, filmmakers and photographers, created and managed the K.E.V.A. Bar-Gallery and Photographic Workshop in Sofia, a center for education and research in photography and media arts. Between 1997 and 2002 it was a cultural center and gallery, hosting and supporting promising audiovisual projects, comparing and mingling opinions, and providing an environment of bringing-up bold and innovative works. In 2002 the Workshop ceased to exist because of changes in the political climate and government interference. This was the catalyst to start a project for a self-sustainable center to counter external factors, providing an independent and stable base for ideas to develop. Through the following years the concept evolved into the Balkan Documentary Center, the venue was purchased on a loan, which is already completely paid-back, and the team started to develop a strategy for an independent regional center, looking for partners to finalize the implementation of the vision into reality."
"The Balkan Documentary Center is many things. On the outside, it is an old three-storey pharmaceutical lab in the center of Sofia that is turning into a place for distilling documentaries. It’s planned as a house with a garden, editing rooms, a screening room, a video library, a café and a lot of space for creative ideas. On the inside, it is a network of Balkan filmmakers, a place for inventing, training, development and collaboration. It’s a house with many doors that are open for Balkan filmmakers. Into the brave new world, of course. It is designed for some 25 people that can freely come and go on daily basis. During events the number can reach 30-50-100."
How far are you into completing the initial idea?
Gradually we introduce new programmes and currently we mostly work on filling the idea with context. There are still additional touches to be done within the house to be finished.
What will be all the services the Center should offer once completed?
The purpose of the Center is to train and support emerging Balkan documentary filmmakers and media professionals in international practices, providing know-how and in-house project development. We see the Center as a venue for ongoing networking and training activities, building a base for free speech and competitive and critical-minded audio-visual projects. Film and media professionals from the Balkans are persistent in their efforts to reach the European standards and join the international market. But a strong platform is necessary to help the initial start-up, project development and creating international contacts and collaborations, which have become almost the only viable working framework for documentary production. Another aspect is to see the similarity of goals between civil society organizations and documentary professionals, and create new frameworks of collaboration.
As media support programs require a significant technical background, and we view the BDC as a long-term initiative, an important stage of our project is to build up an equipped venue. Ultimately the goal is for the Center to become a self-sustainable mechanism for nurturing regional media professionals and facilitating their access to a diverse international audience.
Like AGITPROP, would the Center also embrace a broader scope of fields, not only documentary film but perhaps "non-fiction storytelling" in general, with photography, photojournalism, arts, etc.?
Definitely. The BDC itself will become a meeting place for starting international and cross-sector partnerships. The training and support activities of the Center will be the core steps for the accomplishing the mission of the center – establishing an active network of Balkan documentary makers, audiovisual and media professionals.
Are you able to find any time for this considering you're so busy with so many other duties as a producer?
It's difficult but it's a mission. Alfter 10 years of producing and achieving success I feel I should share my experience, moreover the good professional environment needs a context and we should work hard for creating a healthy and vital professional environment.
Do you think East European/Bulgarian filmmakers have a good sense of community? Sometimes the stereotype goes that East Europeans - maybe due to lower level or short tradition of civic engagement - can seldom work together for a common goal (outside the creative process) and they're not interested in generally improving conditions for filmmaking in their country?
In the Eastern bloc the realization of projects with a critical view and impartial interpretation is impeded by restrictive government practices and weak support. In the Balkans the situation is even more complicated, following the wars and segregation within the region, as well as a very weak civil society sector and independent media. Many open-minded projects falter at conception stage because of the understanding that to realize them would be extremely difficult. The transition period after the political changes at the end of the 80s, followed by a series of ethnic conflicts and an unstable economic situation in the Balkan region directly influenced the development of the audiovisual and media sector. Documentary filmmaking policy in the Balkans is shaky and barely existent, and independent media receives very limited national support. Unfortunately the reasons for this are too complex and I wouldn't agree that it's the filmmakers to be blamed, who in their nature do not difer much from their collagues throughout the world. The difference is that the environment they work and live in is far from predisposing achievement of a good sense of community.
What is your motivation for getting the Center up and running?
European documentary filmmaking is currently far from being a profitable initiative. Its main value is to reach audiences and make them curious, compassionate, approving, skeptic, and foremost – thoughtful. In order to access audiences and produce films up to international standards, Balkan filmmakers need professional skills new to their local background. The Balkan Documentary Center itself is a cross-border initiative, the main point behind its establishing being unifying filmmakers in the region and opening them up to the international market. One of the key reasons behind its establishment is to support and unite the documentary sector in the region in order to foster collaborations and joint productions. The other aspect of the BDC work is to connect film professionals with civil society organizations, corporate socially responsible business, as well as national and international institutions in order to establish stable collaborations for developing strong and innovative audiovisual non-fiction sector.
Bulgarian Film Industry: A Long-lasting Struggle