A History of Bulgarian Cinema

piero scaruffi

Copyright © 2024 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use

History of Cinema | Best films of all time | Database of Filmmakers | Main Cinema page
See also the Best Bulgarian Films of All Time
See first the introduction to the Balkans

In 1908 Bulgaria officially gained independence after five centuries of Ottoman domination (1396-1908). Those were turbulent years. The most influential politician was Stefan Stambolov, who first led the revolutionary movement (fomenting the uprisings of 1875-76 after he succeeded Vasil Levski as the leader of the Vatreöna Revolyutsionna Organizatsiya or VRO) and then defended the country from Russian interference (despite the fact that Bulgaria owed its independence to Russia). He's the one who in 1887 had accidentally found in a Vienna cafe' a prince for the country, a minor German aristocrat of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family that had given Belgium its first two kings (Leopold I and II) and Portugal all the kings since Ferdinand II, descendants of an Austrian general who had fought Napoleon. This German aristocrat became the first king of independent Bulgaria: Ferdinand I. Stambolov became a bloody tyrant who banned opposition newspapers and was eventually assassinated in 1895. His murder was never solved, although some suspected the newly established Vatresna Makedonska Revoljucionna Organizacija or VMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization), the same secret Bulgarian organization that 40 years later would assassinate Aleksandar I of Yugoslavia.

Ferdinand presided over the Balkan war of 1812, when Bulgaria allied with Serbia, Greece and Montenegro to fight the Ottoman Empire and the coalition managed to drive the Ottomans almost entirely out of Europe. He presided over the brief war lost against Serbia and Greece in 1913, and in 1915 he took Bulgaria into World War II on the side of Germany, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, mainly to regain territory lost to Serbia and conquer territory of Romania (which was ruled by its own German king, also called Ferdinand I). The war was yet another disaster and Ferdinand abdicated in favor of his eldest son, Boris III. Bulgaria lost territory and was forced to pay war reparations that made it the poorest of the Balkan states.

The towering figures of Bulgarian literature were Ivan Vazov, a patriot during the independence uprising, who immortalized the movement in his novel "Pod Igoto/ Under the Yoke" (1889), and the symbolist poet Peyo Yavorov, affiliated with the VMRO. Dobri Hristov started classical music in Bulgaria.

The real ruler of the post-war period was Aleksandar Stamboliyski, who had been jailed for his opposition to the war but became prime minister in 1919. He had mild socialist views and was ousted by a military coup in June 1923 (and assassinated by VMRO terrorists). The military installed the economist Aleksandar Tsankov which the communists tried to unseat with an uprising that can be considered the world's first anti-fascist uprising (September 1923). Tsankov responded to the popular uprisings and to two attempts on the king's life by launching a brutal campaign against the communists (the "White Terror" of 1923-25, mirroring the terror of the "whites" against the "reds" in 1917-23 Russia). Eventually the king got rid of Tsankov (later an admirer of Adolf Hitler) and in 1926 appointed as prime minister one of the politicians who had been imprisoned, Andrey Lyapchev. The communists regrouped under a new party and the VMRO continued its campaign of political assassinations. In 1930 a group of politicians, officers and intellectuals founded the Mussolini-inspired movement Zveno to restore order, and in 1934 they orchestrated a coup and installed a general, Kimon Georgiev, as dictator. Boris III rose to the occasion and within one year he managed to oust Georgiev and then appointed Georgi Kyoseivanov as prime minister. Bulgaria finally enjoyed some economic growth. However, the king was increasingly leaning towards Mussolini and Hitler. In 1940 he fired Kyoseivanov and replaced him with the respected intellectual Bogdan Filov (first director of the National Archaeological Museum and then professor of Archeology at Sofia University).

The first Bulgarian filmmaker was Vassil Gendov, formerly a stage actor in the theatrical troupe of actress Roza Popova. He wrote and directed Balgaran e Galant/ Bulgaran is Gallant (1915). He and his wife Zhana Gendova established a film production company but mostly devoted themselves to a traveling theatrical troupe (at the time most Bulgarians lived in the countryside), but he continued to occasionally make films, including the first sound film of Bulgaria, Buntut na Robite/ The Slave's Revolt (1933), a biopic of Bulgariaís national hero Vasil Levski. Bulgaria produced only about 50 movies between 1915 and 1945, and very few of these movies were notable. Borish Grezhov made Sled Pozhara nad Rusiya/ After the Fire Over Russia (1929), adapted from a novel by Pancho Mihaylov.

In 1941 Bulgaria entered World War II on the side of Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy. Bulgaria was again not lucky in the war. Boris III died in 1943, the Soviet Union invaded Bulgaria in September 1944, a coup reinstalled Kimon Georgiev, Filov was executed in 1945 by his own people (one of the thousands executed by the Georgiev regime), the monarchy was abolished in 1946, Nikola Petkov (leader of the largest opposition party) was arrested and executed in 1947, and the formerly exiled Georgi Dimitrov (a communist who had been accused in Germany of setting fire to the Reichstag in 1933 and then had lived in the Soviet Union) established a communist dictatorship. Dimitrov, who was a friend of Yugoslavia's president Tito, died mysteriously in 1949 in the Soviet Union. Vulko Chervenkov ruled between 1950 and 1954 and presided over ethnic cleansing that included the deportation of ethnic Turks to Turkey and of Jews to Israel. In 1954 Todor Zhivkov seized power and remained in power until the fall of communism in 1989.

The communist regime did not welcome culture in general. Classical composers like Pancho Vladigerov struggled to make a living. Unlike Stalin and Tito, Zhivkov was not a fan of the arts. The literature of Bulgaria during the Cold War could not compete with its neighbors, but still boasted novelists like Ivailo Petrov, Gencho Stoev, Liuben Dilov, Pavel Vezhinov, Anton Donchev, Svoboda Bachvarova, Bogomil Rainov (the main author of crime and spy novels), Dimiter Dimov, author of "Tjutjun/ Tobacco" (1951), Dimitur Talev, author of the historical tetralogy that started with "Zhelezniat Svetilnik/ The Iron Candlestick" (1952), Nikolai Haitov, author of "Divi Razkazi/ Wild Stories" (1967), and especially Yordan Radichkov, author of "Baruten Bukvar/ Gunpowder Primer" (1969) and "Posledno Liato/ The Last Summer" (1974); poets like Ivan Davidkov, Konstantin Pavlov, Valeri Petrov, Elisaveta Bagryana and especially Blaga Dimitrova (possibly the greatest poet of Bulgarian literature); and playwrights like Ivan Radoev, Stanislav Stratiev, and Yordan Radichkov himself.

Socialist realism in cinema began with Boris Borozanov's Kalin Orelat/ Kalin the Eagle (1950) and with Zahari Zhandov's anti-fascist Trevoga/ Alarm (1951), adapted from a play by Orlin Vasilyev, and not much of substance happened in the 1950s, other than Dako Dakovski's Pod Igoto/ Under the Yoke (1952), adapted from Ivan Vazov's novel, first part of a trilogy about the collectivization of the agriculture continued with Taynata Vecherya na Sedmatzite/ The Sedmaks' Last Supper (1957) and Stublenskite Lipi/ The Lime Trees of Stublen (1960), Stefan Surchadzhiev's partisan movie Nasha Zemya (1952), starring Apostol Karamitev; and Vladimir Yanchev's comic blockbuster Ljubimec 13/ Lyubimetz 13 (1958), written by Lyuben Popov and starring Apostol Karamitev.

The "Thaw" in the Soviet Union allowed filmmakers to abandon the schematic topics of socialist realism.

Rangel Vulchanov collaborated with the poet and playwright Valeri Petrov on the lyrical prison movie Na Malkiya Ostrov/ On a Small Island (1958), followed by Parvi Urok/ First Lesson (1960) and Slantseto i Syankata/ Sun and Shadow (1962), about the anxiety for a possible nuclear holocaust.

When East Germany and Bulgaria decided to co-produce a film, Jewish screenwriter Angel Wagenstein (aka Anzel Vagenshtain), who had been the first international graduate of the VGIK academy in Moscow, and had scripted Anton Marinovich's Rebro Adamovo (1956) about the plight of Muslim women in Bulgaria, joined his German friend director Konrad Wolf, also a Jew, and a fellow student in Moscow, both from families who had lived in exile during the 1930s to escape persecutions against either communists or Jews, and together they made Zvezdi/ Sterne/ Stars (1959), the first film about Bulgaria's participation in the Holocaust.

Animated cinema too got a late start, but it could rely on two strong Bulgarian traditions: puppeteers and caricaturists. In 1940 Nikola Kotov launched a pioneering comic magazine titled Chuden Sviat (Wonderland). One of the artists was Aleksandar Denkov, born in Prague and still a teenager, who worked on "Hrabriat Eskimos/ The Brave Eskimo". Denkov presided over the first Bulgarian cartoon, Malkiyat Kradetz/ The Little Thief (1945). Dimo Lingurski's propagandistic anti-USA movie Strashnata Bomba/ The Fearful Bomb (1951) and his Sultan a Smelż Stavitel/ Master Manol (1952), based on a folk legend, made with rudimentary technology employing Boyka Mavrodinova's artistic puppets, were the first significant shorts of puppet animation. Lingursky followed the example of Jiri Trnka, while Stefan Topaldjikoff was influenced by Karel Zeman for his stop-motion puppet movies Po Zapoved na Shhukata/ Orders of the Pike (1953) and Nevidimijat Mirko/ Invisible Mirko (1958). Meanwhile, Todor Dinov, who had studied in Moscow of Ivan Ivanov-Vano, became the master of the animated short (of the cartoon) via Yunak Marko/ Marko the Hero (1954), about a legendary Serbian king, Prometey/ Prometheus (1959), Prikazka za Borovoto Klonche/ Tale of the Pine Twig (1960), written by poet Valeri Petrov, Revnost/ Jealousy (1963), a sort of western movie set into a musical pentagram, and Margaritka/ The Daisy (1965).

The window of relative freedom closed rapidly and was never as open as in Khrushchev's Soviet Union. Binka Zhelyazkova became the first Bulgarian woman to direct feature films with Zhivotut si Teche Tiho/ Life Flows By (1957), but the film was banned because it criticized the regime and only released in 1988. That was her first collaboration with screenwriter Hristo Ganev (her husband), that continued with the harrowing A Byahme Mladi/ We Were Young (1961), a somewhat autobiographical account of the underground life of resistance fighters during the German occupation (both director and screenwriter were members of the resistance). Her satirical and surrealistic Privarzaniyat Balon/ The Attached Balloon (1967), written by Yordan Radichkov, was banned too.

Notable films of the 1960s include: Anton Marinovich's crime movie Zlatniyat Zab/ The Golden Tooth (1962); Borislav Sharaliev's Dvama pod Nebeto/ Two under the Sky (1962), written by Angel Wagenstein and starring Apostol Karamitev and Violeta Doneva; Petar Vasilevís satire Spetzialist po Vsichko/ Jack of All Trades (1962); Nikola Korabov's Tjutjun/ Tobacco (1962), adapted from Dimitar Dimov's novel, the film that launched the career of Bulgaria's first movie star, Nevena Kokanova; Vulo Radev's Kradetzat na Praskovi/ The Peach Thief (1964), based on a story by Emilian Stanev, photographed by Todor Stoyanov and co-starring Kokanova (in one of her most famous parts) and Yugoslaviaís movie star Rade Markovic; Lyubomir Sharlandzhiev's Nay - Dobriyat Chovek Kogoto Poznavam/ The Kindest Person I Know (1967), photographed by Borislav Punchev and starring Kokanova; Gueorgui Stoyanov's partisan movie Ptitzi i Hratki/ Birds and Greyhounds (1969), written by novelist Vasil Akiov; and Zako Heskiya's Osmiyat/ The Eighth (1969), adapted from Stoyu Nedelchev-Chochoolu's book "The Fight Is Starting".

Bulgarian filmmakers excelled at children's movies, such as Dimiter Petrov's Kapitanat/ The Captain (1963), adapted from Anastas Pavlov's novel, and Borislav Sharalievís Ritsar bez Bronya/ Knight without Honor (1966), scripted by Valeri Petrov.

Rangel Vulchanov emerged as one of the strongest figures, capable of directing both a crime thriller like Inspektorat i Noshta/ The Inspector and the Night (1963), scripted by Bogomil Rainov, photographed by Dimo Kolarov (the most influential cinematographer of the decade) and starring Konstantin Kotsev, Naum Shopov and Kokanova, and a political satire like Ezop/ Aesop (1970), written by Wagenstein and set in an Ancient Greece that is an allegory for the Soviet Union.

Todor Stoyanov, already a respected cinematographer, co-directed with Grisha Ostrovski Otklonenie/ Detour (1967), written by poetess Blaga Dimitrova and starring Kokanova and Katya Paskaleva, and made Stranen Dvuboy/ A Strange Duel (1971), written by Dinyo Gochev, photographed by Viktor Chichov and starring Kokanova.

The new master of animation was Donyo Donev, who rose to prominence with Prolet/ Spring (1966) and then created the most famous cartoon of Bulgaria: Trimata Glupatsi/ The Three Fools (1970).

Todor Dinov and Hristo Hristov adapted Dimitur Talev's novel "Zhelezniat Svetilnik/ The Iron Candlestick" into the film Iconostasis (1968), about a humble Bulgarian woodcarver working on churches at the end of the Ottoman rule, a sort of Bulgarian equivalent of Andrei Tarkovskyís contemporary Andrei Rublev. This lyrical film foreshadowed a rebirth of Bulgarian cinema, as did Methodi Andonov's melancholy Byalata Staya/ White Room (1968), adapted from Bogomil Raynov's novella "Roads For Nowhere", photographed by Dimo Kolarov and starring Apostle Karamatev.

In fact, the 1970s witnessed another brief creative boom. Pavel Pissarev was appointed by cultural minister Lyudmila Shivkova to lead the Bulgarian State Cinematography in 1971 and reorganized the national studios. Pissarev, and therefore the Bulgarian filmmakers, were lucky that the regime wanted to celebrate in grand style the 1300th anniversary of the medieval Bulgarian empire, founded in the year 981, and poured money into celebratory films (besides archelogical exhibitions, theater, music and so on).

Georgi Djulgerov, who had studied at the VGIK in Moscow, teamed up with cinematographer Radoslav Spassov for a decade of dramas. He is the director who discovered the playwright Nikolai Haitov, adapting one of his stories for Izpit/ The Test (1971), who would become one of Bulgaria's top screenwriters. Djulgerov and Spassov then made the partisan movie I Doyde Denyat/ And the Day Came (1973), with an autobiographical script by novelist Vasil Akiov, Avantazh/ Advantage (1977), adapted from Petko Zdravkov's book "Notes of a Public Prosecutor" and starring stage actor Rousy Chanev, and Trampa/ Swap (1978), from a story by Ivailo Petrov.

Metodi Andonov's epic Koziyat Rog/ The Goat Horn (1972), adapted from a short story by Nikolai Haitov, set during the Ottoman occupation, the story of a girl raised as a boy who becomes a revenge hero, starring Katya Paskaleva and Anton Gorchev (as well as future star Todor Kolev) was a major event.

Lyudmil Kirkov, in collaboration with screenwriter Georgi Mishev, composer Boris Karadimchev, cinematographer Georgi Rusinov and actress Kokanova, made a string of realist dramas that ranked among the most important yet of Bulgarian cinema: Momcheto si Otiva/ A Boy Becomes a Man (1972), the moving Selyaninat s Koleloto/ The Peasant with a Bike (1974), which is one of the best films of the "migration" genre, Ne si Otivay/ Do not Go (1976) and Matriarhat/ Matriarchy (1977), a satire about a farming cooperative run only by women because the men have left for the factories.

Lyudmil Staikov and his cinematographer Boris Yanakiev made Obich/ Love (1972), from Alexander Karasimeonov's novel, about an alienated young woman, starring Violeta Doneva and Nevena Kokanova, Dopalnenie kam Zakona za Zashtito na Darzhavata/ Amendment to the Defense-of-State Act (1976), about the "White Terror" of 1923-25 under Tsankov, and Ilyuzia/ Illusion (1980), written by the poet Konstantin Pavlov, a symbolist tale about an artist, an actress and a poet during the 1923 uprising.

Hristov became a specialist in literary adaptations: Darvo bez Koren/ A Tree without Roots (1974), based on two stories by Nikolai Haitov; Hristo Hristov's supernatural thriller Barierata/ The Barrier (1979), from Pavel Vezhinov's novel, starring Soviet actor Inokentiy Smoktunovski; the lyrical meditation Posledno Liato/ The Last Summer (1972 but released only two years later), scripted by Yordan Radichkov; and Cyklopat/ Cyclops (1976), photographed by Venets Dimitrov, from Gencho Stoev's novel, an existential sci-fi tale in the vein of Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (but set in a submarine instead of a spacecraft).

The screenwriters Bratya Mormarevi (the Mormarevi Brothers, i.e. Moritz Yomtov and Marko Stoychev) wrote comedies for Bulgaria's most famous comic actors, like Dimitar Petrov's Taralezhite se Razhdat bez Bodli/ Porcupines Are Born Without Spines (1971) for Dimitar Panov Petar Vasilev's Dva Dioptara Dalekogledstvo/ Farsighted for Two Diopters (1976) for Georgi Partsalev.

Ivanka Grybcheva (or Grubcheva) was the new master of children's movies: Izpiti po Nikoe Vreme/ Exams out of the Blue (1974), which began her collaboration with Bratya Mormarevi and with cinematographer Yatsek Todorov, and her TV series Voynata na Taralezhite/ The Hedgehogsí War (1979) about a gang of children (the "hedgehogs").

Eduard Zahariev emerged with two satirical farces written by Georgi Mishev and starring Itzhak Fintsi: Prebroyavane na Divite Zaytsi/ The Hare Census (1973) and Vilna Zona/ Villa Zone (1975), the former also starring Todor Kolev, the latter also starring Katya Paskaleva and Naum Shopov. Haitov repeated the feat of Koziyat Rog with another film about ancient folklore, Eduard Zaharievís Mazhki Vremena/ Manly Times (1977), photographed by Radoslav Spassov.

Rangel Vulchanov teamed with screenwriter Valeri Petrov for the existential fable S Lyubov i Nezhnost/ With Love and Tenderness (1978) and then crafted by himself the nostalgic and Fellini-esque Lachenite Obuvki na Neznayniya Voin/ The Unknown Soldier's Patent Leather Shoes (1979), from a screenplay that he wrote in 1963 and photographed by Radoslav Spassov, the history of modern Bulgaria viewed through the eyes of a child, possibly his best film, a kaleidoscope of vignettes that pay tribute to traditional rural life and to the persistence of pagan rituals, contrasting oneiric visions with gruesome reality.

The two top auteurs of 1970s animated cinema studied in Moscow. Anri Kulev started a collaboration with screenwriter Hristo Ganev (who in 1971 had been banned from making films for five years) that would last for four decades through animated shorts like Hipoteza/ Hypothesis (1976) and Veselyakat/ The Merry Rascal (1987). Nikolay Todorov made the stylish Odiseya/ Odyssey (1978) and Grandomaniya (1979), the latter written by Stefan Tsanev. Rumen Petkov, a comic-book artist of the children's magazine Duga (Rainbow) that was launched in 1979, penned the cartoon series Choko i Boko/ Choko the Stork and Boko the Frog (1979) and collaborated with painter Slav Bakalov for Jenitba/ Mariage (1985). There were many other animated movies, from Donyo Donev's Umno Selo/ Clever Village (1972) to Slav Bakalov's Pastoral (1980).

Ivan Andonov lived parallel lives: on one hand he directed comedies written by Georgi Mishev such as Samodivsko Horo (1976) and Dami Kanyat (1980), while on the other hand he delivered sociocritical dramas such as Pokriv/ The Roof (1978) and Chereshova Gradina/ The Cherry Orchard (1979), the latter scripted by Nikolai Haitov.

The decade also yielded: Milen Nikolov's love tragedy Krayat na Pesenta/ The End of the Song (1971), written by Nikolai Haitov and photographed by Ivaylo Trenchev; Vulo Radevís Osadeni Dushi/ Doomed Souls (1975), photographed by Hristo Totev, starring adapted from Dimiter Dimovís novel and set during the Spanish civil war; stage director Asen Shopovís Vechni Vremena/ Eternal Times (1975), photographed by Ivaylo Trenchev; Binka Zhelyazkova's love story Baseynat/ The Swimming Pool (1977), written as usual by her husband Hristo Ganev and photographed by Ivaylo Trenchev; Georgi Stoyanovís new partisan movie Panteley (1978), scripted by Vasil Aykov like the first one; Kiran Kolarovís Sluzhebno Polozhenie - Ordinarets/ Status - Orderly (1978), based on Georgi Stamatov's story "Orderly Dimo"; Vladimir Yanchev's satirical comedy Toplo/ Central Heat (1978), starring Naum Shopov and Konstantin Kotsev; etc.

In October 1981 Bulgaria finally celebrated its anniversary. Pissarevís planned historical costume epics, devoted to glorify Bulgaria's history, could finally be released: Zahari Zhandovís Boyanskiyat Maistor/ Master of Boyana (1981), by the dean of Bulgarian socialist realism, influenced by his Georgian-Armenian friend Sergei Paradzhanov; Lyudmil Stalkovís Khan Asparukh (1981), scripted by Vera Mutafchieva and photographed by Boris Yanakiev, the most expensive film of Bulgarian cinema yet, in three parts (a folkloric tribute to Turkic tribes of the Central Asian steppes, the lengthy migration westward to the lands of the Slavs, and the allied struggle of Bulgars and Slavs against the Byzantine Empire); Georgi Djulgerovís Mera Spored Mera/ Tit for Tat/ Measure for Measure (1981), adapted from Svoboda Bachvarova's novel "Liturgia za Ilinden/ A Liturgy for St Elijah's Day/ Ilinden Mass", photographed by Spassov and starring Rousy Chanev, which blended fiction and documentary and also in three parts (Macedonia under the Ottomans, the Ilinden Day Uprising of 1903, the Macedonian independence movement in 1906-12); Gueorgui Stoyanov's Konstantin Filosof/ Constantine the Philosopher (1983), photographed by Hristo Totev, scripted by Nikola Rusev, starring Rousy Chanev, Naum Shopov and Itschak Fintzi, and celebrating the conversion of Slavic peoples to Christianity in 865, i.e. the mission of the Greek monks Cyril and Methodius; and Borislav Sharalievís Boris Purvi/ Boris the First (1984), photographed by Venets Dimitrov and scripted by veteran screenwriter Angel Wagenstein, a revisionist biopic of the founder of Bulgariaís medieval empire. The release of the latter two epics was delayed by the death of the cultural minister who had presided over the entire project, Lyudmila Shivkova.

Bulgaria kept producing historical epics, but only Lyudmil Staikovís five-hour Vreme Razdelno/ Time of Violence (1988), adapted from Anton Donchev's novel and photographed by Radoslav Spassov didn't succumb to stereotypes.

There were also comedies like Nikolay Volev's Gospodin za Edin Den/ King for a Day (1983), written by Nikola Statkov and starring Todor Kolev.

Ivan Andonov continued his double life, first directing the surrealistic Byala Magiya/ White Magic (1982), photographed by Viktor Chichov, starring Plamena Getova, scripted by Konstantin Pavlov and set in ancient times in a bizarre mountain village, and then indulging in possibly his best comedy, Opasen Char/ Dangerous Charm (1984), written by Svoboda Bachvarova and starring Todor Kolev (in one of his virtuoso performances) and Nevena Kokanova.

Ivanka Grybcheva made her best adult drama, "Zlatnata Reka/ The Golden River" (1983), written by Georgi Bogdanov and photographed by Emil Vagenshtain (younger brother of Angel Wagenstein), as well as the fairy tale "13ta Godenitsa na Printsa/ The 13th Bride of the Prince" (1987), another collaboration with the Bratya Mormarevi and photographed by Emil's son Grisha Vagenshtain.

Nikolay Volev specialized in generational dramas: Da Obichash na Inat/ All for Love (1986), adapted from Chavdar Shinov's novel "Da se Lyubim na Inat" and starring Velko Kynev in his most famous role; and Margarit i Margarita (1988), based on Alexander Tomov's novel.

Yevgeni Mihailov and cinematographer Ellie Yonova (his wife) made two dramas: Dom za Nezhni Dushi/ Home for Lonely Souls (1981), scripted by Boyan Papasov and starring Plamena Getova (the film that revealed her), and the desperate Smartta Mozhe da Pochaka/ Death Can Wait a While (1985), adapted from Alexander Tomov's novel "Hipoteza/ Hypothesis" and starring Kolev.

Rumyana Petkova made feminist films with an all-women crew comprising screenwriter Nevelina Popova and cinematographer Svetlana Ganeva, and about women: Otrazheniya/ Reflections (1982) and especially Prizemyavane/ Coming Down to Earth (1985), starring Plamena Getova.

Bulgaria finally produced feature-length animated films, notably Rumen Petkov's Planetata na Sukrovishtata/ Treasure Planet (1982), a sci-fi version Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" that features robots and ends inside a black hole, and Donyo Donevís Narekohme gi Monteki i Kapuleti/ We Called Them Montagues and Capulets (1985).

Other notable films of the 1980s include: Ognyan Gelinovís Letaloto/ The Flying Machine (1981), written by Boyan Papasov, a military satire set during the Balkan Wars; Ivan Pavlovís Masovo Choudo/ Mass Miracle (1981), scripted by Konstantin Pavlov; Irina Aktasheva's and Hristo Piskov's philosophical parable Lavina/ Avalanche (1982), the adaptation of Blaga Dimitrovaís novel; Vesselin Branevís drama Hotel Central (1982), by a television screenwriter who adapted two Konstantin Konstantinov stories set in the 1930s, starring Irene Krivoshieva; Lyudmil Kirkov's Ravnovessie/ Balance (1983), written by Stanislav Stratiev and starring Plamena Getova; Eduard Zahariev's Skapa Moya Skapi Moy/ My Darling My Darling (1986), based on Alexander Tomov's novel "Svetata Ana/ Saint Anna"; and Plamen Maslarovís Sadiyata/ The Judge (1986), a sort of western set during the Ottoman occupation.

Generally speaking, the 1980s were not as good a decade as the 1970s. After producing the lavish spectacles for the 1981 celebrations, Bulgarian cinema seemed to run out of both funds and stimuli. Coincidentally, in 1980 Pissarev was replaced by Nikolai Nenov as film minister, and in 1981 cultural minister Lyudmila Shivkova died. The situation didn't improve when in 1986 Lyudmil Staikov was appointed the new film minister.

Todor Zhivkov was finally deposed peacefully in 1989 when all communist regimes of eastern Europe were collapsing. In 1992 Zhelyu Zhelev became the first democratically elected president of Bulgaria and Bulgaria began a process of rapid integration with western Europe: Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007. The economic conditions never truly improved and Bulgaria's democratic governments experienced massive demonstrations in 2013 and 2020.

The main intellectual to emerge after 1991 was the poet Nikolai Kunchev, but Bulgarian culture did not easily recover from the social and economic shock.

The era's most inventive maker of short animated movies was Zlatin Radev, who crafted the political satire Konservfilm/ Canfilm (1990) and the virtuoso Shock (1993).

Ivanka Grybcheva directed the TV series Zhrebiyat/ The Lot (1993), adapted from Svoboda Bachvarova's novel.

Notable films of the new century include: Iglika Triffonova's Pismo do Amerika/ Letters To America (2000), Zornitsa Sophia's Mila ot Mars/ Mila from Mars (2004), Alexo Petrov's Baklava (2007), Javor Gardev's thriller Dzift/ Zift (2008), Kamen Kalev's Iztochni Piesi/ Eastern Plays (2009), Stephan Komandarev's Svetat e Golyam i Spasenie Debne Otvsyakade/ The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (2009), Ralitza Petrova's Bezbog/ Godless (2016), perhaps the best Bulgarian film since the end of communism, and Milko Lazarov's Ńga (2018).

Kristina Grozeva and Peter Valchanov collaborated on the trilogy of Urok/ The Lesson (2014), Slava/ Glory (2016) and Bashhata/ The Father (2019).

Katerina Goranova directed the blockbuster Benzin/ Broken Road (2017), written by Alexey Kozhuharov, for actor Assen Blatechki.

Copyright © 2024 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use
See also the Best Bulgarian Films of All Time