photo credit: private archive
author: Alexandra Terziyska
When and how did you first come in touch with the history of a family writing letters across continents?
My idea was to make a serious movie and the particular story came from the screenwriters. We had been developing it for a long time, even going to international screenwriting workshops in order to build up the details and the characters. What I've been observing lately is that the audience is mostly watching the story, the script. That remains in their heads. The way you tell the story is of secondary importance, so it is a good idea to take the time and give excessive attention to the details in it. The road to the Red Carpet was also a long one. It took us 4 years and this is by no means the longest production period of an average Bulgarian feature movie, it is quite short even.
“We have not seen such a thing – not only in Bulgaria, but also in other countries around the world!", said Prof. Hristo Pimpirev during the first shooting day (note: Prof. Pimpirev is the head of the Bulgarian expedition to Antarctica and a consultant for the movie). What was the most difficult part of directing for you?
There are quite a few difficulties, we can even say that there are no "easinesses". Even with choosing a story – in the ocean of movies we swim in on a daily basis, it is difficult to choose an important and relatively new topic. Funding the script is difficult because the projects are plentiful and the money is scarce. The choice of the crew and cast brings the appearance and substance of the words and if the wrong one is made, the final cut of the movie changes. You have to be careful all the time because cinema is a complex and group art. I choose good actors who fit the characters in the script. The "star" status of some Bulgarian actors does not matter to me much. And I suffer from this because I realize that the masses are excited and if you want their ticket money you have to give them "stars from TV". In the case of the “Letters”, I could afford to disregard this. Everything in the movie is only in regard to one goal – to tell the story in the best possible way. And the story is very strong.
How did you get to work with a professional who really knows the secrets of Antarctica?
The purpose of shooting in Antarctica was to bring authenticity. Everything in this movie had to be truthful and feel real. The viewer senses when you con him. The trip to Livingston Island coincided with the preparation of the main movie here and I had to stay behind, but I sent a storyboard operator and he shot exactly what we needed. Antarctica is woven into a primordial level in history – the icy continent is a metaphor for a frozen lie that gradually disintegrates, as the ice does. A symbol of the white lie.
The movie is about deep human experiences, how did you prepare the youngest actor, who is only 8 years old?
It is rather difficult. A shooting day is a very fragile and expensive thing, requiring all participants to be disciplined and resilient. And here comes a normal kid who has little interest in our high artistic ambitions and says, "I am tired of shooting today". This gives only a brief idea of what it is like to film children. Although Simeon was the most professional child possible. And talented. I organized a few separate meetings for Irmena and Moni (note: Simeon) – to watch a movie or go to a pastry shop, so that they could get to know each other beforehand and not look strangely at each other on screen. I think they fit good together.
What are the other challenges of the shooting process with a young child?
There was a scene on the lake... Not to spoil much, but the child has to walk on thin ice. We weighed many different options on how to do this without risking Simeon getting ill. We had an idea to build a path under the ice in November and leave it there until January to freeze so that Simeon could walk on it. The municipality ordered us to forget it – and so we did. We then had the idea of tying little Simeon across the waist with ropes and holding him with a crane while walking on real ice; it was too thin to walk safely and calmly on it. So we combined the real park with decor and green screens, then added a lot of computer effects. It was a bit contrary to my idea of authenticity, but otherwise there was the risk of drowning the main actors.
On January 18th you are visiting Berlin, what have you prepared for cinema connoisseurs in the German capital? (note: The movie screening will be with English subtitles.)
I see that the viewers are looking for light and unloading stories, and ours initially scares them. Our advertising campaign may not have been accurate. I want to tell them that "Letters from Antarctica" is viewed super lightly, and on top of that, they'll be positively excited about it. Our topics are universal and there will be no viewer who does not find a particle for himself, to relate it to his past.
What is your impression on the viewers after the end of the movie?
All screenings include a large number of people who come out of the cinema with tears in their eyes. Tears of joy and purification. I was sure because when we wrote the script, when I directed the scenes, I also cried. I remember that before the scene of the great confrontation, I was left alone on the shooting location to read the text, and felt myself sitting and crying. The dads will sympathize the most. The naive urge of a child to bring his father back is terribly touching.