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Choreography of Movement

The subject of Sofia's Last Ambulance speaks for itself. Thirteen ambulances service several million residents of Sofia and Bulgaria's medical system is near total collapse. A few shots into the trailer, it is clear that Ilian Metev's film will be telling the story through images. At the end of October, Metev attended the East European Forum in Jihlava and he will pitch Sofia's Last Ambulance at IDFA (Nov 22-24).


Choreography of Movement

An Interview with Ilian Metev, Director of Sofia's Last Ambulance

Hana Rezková

In the project treatment, you mention the way the scenes will be shot inside and outside of the ambulance. That’s the technical method to achieve a particular effect on the level of images. But could you describe at what stage you arrive at this basic decision? How do you come up with the way the image should be structured to carry more than just the imprint of the visual field before the camera?

Before starting filming, I spent a good deal of time with our film’s protagonists without any equipment. During this period I tried to understand which are the most expressive situations to be captured and how this should be done in accord with what I want to express with this film. It is a process of leaving things out, of choosing only the essential.

Connected to this is also the way in which we work with camera and sound. I usually devise a set of rules, according to which my sound recordist and I choreograph our movements. Despite carefully preparing the shoot, we try to be as intuitive and responsive to what we see and hear at the location. To me the process of filmmaking is like a constant dialogue between the rationale and the intuitive.

I am extremely interested in what happens outside a frame, as well as in between the shots. I love the idea that film language works as a sequence of stimuli, where the spectator invents or discovers the film for himself.


Your trailer for Sofia's Last Ambulance produces two effects that are usually incompatible - intimate closeness blends with focused distance...

I am looking for authenticty. An important part in this is to gain your protagonists trust, which only happens by spending enough time with them. Furthermore, I don’t want to distort how we look at real life, for instance, by adding a soundtrack. I find inspiration in the work of Robert Bresson, who was aiming for a unified style, where not the shots themselves, but rather the relationship between them would create meaning. He has a modest, yet uniquely powerful style.


The editing composition of your previous film Goleshovo has a seemingly simple structure. Loosely planted scenes of various kinds coexist in the time of the film without being linked by any particular solid narrative line. Yet in retrospect and while watching the film they seem to settle into an intuitively connected portrait of the village. Will a similar approach be used in Sofia’s Last Ambulance?

It took me some time to arrive at the final composition of Goleshovo. Initially, I had a very different, far more linear structure in mind, however the film simply didn’t cohere. What solved this problem was to think in a more emotional way about the material. Taken from this, I devised the final composition in a way, where I would assign an emotional meaning and rhythmic quality to each scene. Regarding Sofia’s Last Ambulance, I spent a lot of time thinking about its structure and how to make it into a unified whole. I believe that Sofia’s Last Ambulance will be a bolder work.


In Goleshovo, you put complete trust into the protagonists, letting their statements and the expression of their experience speak for themselves (e.g., in the opening scene, singing, etc.). The protagonists don’t give answers to questions, instead they themselves embody all they are able to share. The viewer is introduced to this setup of roles right in the opening scene. Once again, when did you decide to open this film with this particular scene?

Often, I find it more stimulating when a film asks questions, provokes thoughts, rather than explains anything. I shot the opening scene, which is the only interview in the film, quite late on in the process. Initially, I didn’t want to include any interviews and instead rely on a predominantly action-based film. Evdokia, the woman who opens Goleshovo, has uniquely worldly and wise views on life. It was largely because of her that we decided to set our film in this particular place. So we had to break a rule. To have access to her inner world, we needed this interview. It connects the particular space and time to the universal.


Goleshovo was your thesis film, which for many, including Czech filmmakers means a break away from the free and financially stable time at the film academy. Does Sofia’s Last Ambulance change anything for you in this respect?

Sofia's Last Ambulance is very different in terms of dynamic environment and spacial restrictions. Yet, I believe that those limitations are inspiring for creative work, for finding interesting solutions. In my work, I am always looking for people who, despite their difficult circumstances, find a love for life.



After their late October pitch at the 2010 East European Forum in Jihlava, Bulgarian director Ilian Metev and Croatian producer Siniša Juričić will present Sofia's Last Ambulance at IDFA's The FORUM (Central Pitch), November 22 - 24, 2010.

Please click here for a reminder of all documentary projects pitched at the East European Forum.

The interview was first published in the 1st issue of Industry Reel, our industry bi-daily for film professionals in Jihlava.

Sofia's Last Ambulance is our Film of the Week.