Over the past 15 years Bulgarian Production company AGITPROP is giving an example how to run successful company, in terms of a producing best awarded documentary films. For instance, Georgi and the Butterflies directed by Andrey Paounov received the Silver Wolf Prize at IDFA, Heart of Sarajevo for Best Regional Documentary at the 2004 SFF, or Corridor #8 directed by Boris Despodov, who received the Award of independent Ecumenical Jury at Berlinale in 2008. Nevertheless, international recognition of Bulgarian films is not enough for the industry to withstand the struggle for Bulgarian national funding system.
Due to the global financial crisis the Bulgarian government had to implement austerity measures by which culture was affected greatly. These measures resulted as cuts in a national budget up to 57% of the state support for Film Funds, starting from 2009. In order to understand the current Bulgarian film industry law framework we have to single out two major periods: one which evolved from series amendments taken in 1990s, and the other which was determined by implementing specialized laws from 2000 and onwards, starting with the Law on Protection and Development of Culture. Following this law, the Bulgarian Parliament had enacted the main regulatory film law in 2003, known as Film Industry Act. The implementation of this law led to establishing of the Executive Agency “National Film Centre” (NFC), which is by all means in accordance with Media Desk (operating in Bulgaria from 2002). It has also set up a mechanism which had standardized the amount of public funding given to the Agency (Article 17), the yearly amount of which should not be less than the total of the average budgets for the previous year of 7 feature films, 14 full-length documentaries and 160 minutes animation.1 This legislation ought to initiate a stable environment for Bulgarian film industry.
The severe cut resulted in less than half of the 9.5 Million Euro promised for 2010 for the films which had been distributed. This situation had reached its peak, by the official announcement of NFC that no projects will be selected during the second half of the year by the commissions of the NFC. In December 2010, the Bulgarian government continued with its drastic measures by amending the article from the 2003 Film Industry Act which regulates amount of the public support for film by adding words "if possible" and "up to." This enabled that the Ministry of Finance can make a decision on its own without consultation with the Ministry of Culture or NFC, wheatear there is money for funding certain projects, in order to carry out necessary austerity measures. This situation had provoked series protest of film and arts bodies, including institutions as Association of the Directors of Photography, Association of Independent Producers, Association of Film Producers, Film Directors Association, Observatory of Cultural Economics, Sound Association Union of the Bulgarian Film Makers outside the Ministry of Culture and other government offices in Sofia. Protesters were completely aware that government had to find a way to fill in the budget gap, but they were demanding to find an alternative method to solve this situation. Diana Andreeva, a co-founder and currently Director of the Observatory of Cultural Economics said that after a several weeks of protests, they entered negotiations in Cabinet of the Prime Minister and they achieved two agreements, which actually nobody from the public authorities had followed 7 months later. Then, 56 senators from the opposition in the parliament retorted against the formula for the film financing in the Constitutional Court. Eight film protesting organizations were stated as a part in the Court. After three months they had won the trial. Now they are waiting the Bulgarian state and the Ministry of Culture to fulfill the legislation and to cover the debt of more than 15 million Euro of the Bulgarian cinema.2 By the end of 2011 after almost two years NFC had selected two feature films, two script development projects, nine documentaries (four debuts) and four animated for state financial aid. The amount of the financial support for 2012 is around 6 Million Euro. This sum is one Million Euro more than the subsidy for 2011, but in the same time, we have to acknowledge a fact that the official statistics for the film budgets in 2011, the determined subsidy is three Million Euro less than the provided value according to the original wording of Article 17 of Film Industry Act.3
On the other hand, Bulgaria is following a trend of most European national film industries, which reflects in a significant decrease of cinema theaters. It could be noted that with decrease of small cinema theaters simultaneously multiplex cinemas are developing rapidly. At the moment there are 141 screens with 29021 seats in Bulgaria, and only 17 single-screens are running. There is an another ambiguous fact, featured film “Mission London” by Dimitar Mitovski (375 754 viewers) is the only Bulgarian film which reached top 20 films screened at national cinemas, third in terms of number of viewers and second in terms of revenues in the history of the modern Bulgarian box-office statistics.4 This situation also indicates that if a documentary film is screened in cinemas, that it is a quite exceptional phenomena. Martichka Bohzilova, one of the most famous Bulgarian documentary film producers (AGITPROP production company) and the holder of International Trailblazers Award, finds that Bulgarian documentary film industry has had a very strong tradition since the 60s and 70s and for the moment, globally seen, it is the leading film industry in terms of festivals, awards, audience acclaim in comparison with the fiction film industry. Despite this fact there still isn't a documentary lobby - an association of documentary makers or other organizations, which would contribute to creating stronger positions for the documentary cinema - promotion resources (which practically do not exist), documentary films in the cinemas, and documentary slots in the public TVs. But thanks to the AGITPROP production company which had founded in 2010 the first Balkan Documentary Center based in Sofia, they have provided Balkan region with new educational center and research lab, offering also production equipment and post facilities. Thus far, they have organized two Balkan Documentary Center Discoveries Workshops, bringing together both “creators” and “funders” to find and to explore new modes of collaboration.
On the other hand, thanks to Media Desk Bulgaria most documentary films received a financial support. Media Desk is still one of the biggest promoters of Bulgarian documentary film. From 2004-2011 they have supported 14 documentary films, in amount of 433 164 Euro. They did not finance any projects in 2007 and 2008. When it comes to support in terms of Television Broadcast, Martichka Bohzilova explains: “Although it is not obliged by law, Bulgarian National Television (BNT) is the only TV to participate in financing of documentaries, yet its budget is quite low as a whole and the amounts and number of supported projects are not enough. During the last 2 years pre-sale has been started, as per which with low amounts BNT participates as a supporting financier. Apart from this the hard thing is that there still lacks setting up of documentary slots except in-house, which are not related to independent producers.”
Documentary filmmakers do not have much choice but to find other sources as well, not to rely just on National Film Center. In such difficult situation, feature films are still much more privileged. Unfortunately Bulgarian documentary film industry has an another shortcoming, there are two state universities and a private one as well as a private college that provide film education in Bulgaria, but none of them have a documentary department. When we try to grasp complicated film industry situation in Bulgaria, we have to admit that the accomplishment they have gained is certainly worth praising.