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12-1 Bulgarian Cinema Death?


This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev radev@tune.cs.columbia.edu with numerous contributions by others.

12-1 Bulgarian Cinema Death?

Rumors of the death of the Bulgarian cinema, although exaggerated, are not
groundless at all. After the fall of the socialist rule in November 1989
and the first free elections in June 1990, not only was Georgi Dimitrov's
mummy taken out of his Stalinist Mausoleum and burned to ashes, but the
whole film industry -- with its totalitarian structure based exclusively on
the state support and control -- virtually collapsed. It did not happen in
a day. The process was long and painful, as if in slow motion, and its last
shot of total distraction was taken somewhere in the beginning of 1992,
although other chain-reactions of disintegration still linger on. After the
clouds of dust settled, the aftermath was found to be a rather mournful and
devastating sight.
Ten years ago Ronald Holloway in his book "The Bulgarian Cinema"
wrote: "The Boyana Studios at the foot of Mount Vitosha turn out a feature
film a week for cinemas or television. The annual breakdown is about equal:
twenty-five for movie screens and the same for the TV tube. This is in
addition to another twenty-five animated films, and over two hundred shorts
and documentaries."
Now: In the last year only five feature films were released. In total, the
films produced in 1992 are 12.8 times less than in 1987.
Ten years ago: "There are approximately thirty-six hundred cinemas in
the country."
Now: There are 319 cinemas in the country. Over the last five years,
the number of the cinemas has decreased 8.6 times, which is particularly
tragic in the villages and small towns where the decrease is up to 29 times.
Even in the capital Sofia only 18 cinemas remain open.
Ten years ago: "Each moviegoer is reckoned to attend the movies on an
average of ten to thirteen times a year."
Now: For the last five years, the attendance has been reduced 4.2 times --
each moviegoer attended an average of nine movies in 1987, and only two in
Ten years ago: "A sprawling complex, the Boyana Studios are referred to as
"film city" by the local population. Nearly all of the technical facilities
are housed under one roof, the staff including over nine thousand qualified
Now: "In the transitional period the staff has been reduced to 250 compared
with the 1,500 who were formerly employed," says Mikhail Kirkov. "The
result of our financial reconstruction, from a government institution to a
private company, is still unknown."
Ten years ago: "When one considers that as late as 1953 only one feature
film was produced a year, the growth of the Bulgarian film industry is
astonishing, to say the least." Especially, keeping in mind that this is a
country smaller than Pennsylvania with a population less than nine
Now: When one considers that as recent as 1988 seventy-two full-length
films (20 features, 26 for TV and 26 documentaries), fifty-seven animated
and more than four hundred other shorts were produced, the collapse of the
Bulgarian film industry is astonishing, to say the least. When I was trying
to do a research for this paper, the answer to my question, what was the
current situation of the Bulgarian cinema, more often than not was, "What
Bulgarian cinema?" This answer was given by ordinary moviegoers, film buffs
and even some professionals. Total apathy and disinterested pessimism to
the subject abounded. The first and probably the largest video distributor
on the country, ironically called "Bulgarian Video", does not hold any
Bulgarian title produced since the fall of the socialist rule. It is
practically impossible to find a video copy of any recent Bulgarian film.
Although in 1992 one hundred fifty-nine new films opened in the cinemas
around the country, and five of them were Bulgarian (compared with 99 films
from the USA and 53 from Europe), it seemed that most of the people did not
notice them. Paradoxically, it seemed that most of the people, consciously
or not, accepted the notion that the Bulgarian cinema was some kind of
by-product of the socialist cultural practice, which therefore naturally
disappeared with this ideology for good.


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