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Of Bulgaria's film industry, Expendables and expenditure: Prime Minister Boiko Borissov hobnobs with international stars while local industry cries out for support.

It was the photo opportunity that made the front page of every Bulgarian-language daily of note: Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and tough guy star Arnold Schwarzenegger in amicable embrace.

Bulgaria is making the pages of international film industry journals at the moment with the filming of The Expendables 2, which has brought to the country's capital city Sofia a range of the rugged: Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Jason Statham. The Prime Minister, not unselfconscious of his own action man image, seemed in good company with Schwarzenegger, waving around a prop sword.



Schwarzenegger said that Avi Lerner, the producer and owner of Nu Image/Millennium Films, had produced movies all his life and "very much believed" in Bulgaria.

Borissov and Schwarzenegger shared the opinion that the film industry is a successful tool for stimulating economic development, according to a Government media statement after the October 10 meeting.

One of those present for the photo-op was Culture Minister Veshi Rashidov. Relatively fresh in the memory of Bulgaria's film-makers, actors and others in the local industry, of course, is the December 2010 protest that - among other things - demanded the resignation of Rashidov because of changes approved by Parliament to the formula for production support in the Film Industry Act.

The amendments envisaged state funding sufficient for seven features, 14 documentaries and the equivalent of 160 minutes of animated film being produced in Bulgaria in 2011 - with the text crucially including the provisos "if possible" and "up to".

The outcry was considerable. At the time, speaking to Variety, Mira Staleva, head of Sofia Meetings, an industry event that runs during the Sofia Film Festival, said that the Government had not been fulfilling its funding obligations even before the law was amended. She said that the Bulgarian film industry was in jeopardy.

The controversy around the amendments led to the departure from office of then-deputy culture minister Dimitar Dereliev, who had reportedly advocated tax benefits to stimulate film production in Bulgaria. After Dereliev was fired, Borissov spoke of the need to discuss with the film industry its future.

Awards and rewards

An internet search on the topic of Bulgaria's films in recent months turns up a considerable list of awards won by the country's films and film-makers.

Most recently, local production Tilt is being pushed forward as the country's nomination for the Oscar for foreign film and for a Golden Globe. Currently, the big-splash launch locally is of The Island ( ) which had its premiere at the Ivan Vazov National Theatre in Sofia on October 10.

Making that day Borissov's one for meeting the stars, he sat down with the film's director Kamen Kalev, one of the producers, Angel Hristanov and Danish actor Thure Lindhardt (another of the film's stars is Laetitia Casta).

According to reports of the meeting, Borissov said that even in years of serious financial and economic crisis, films had been produced in the country that had succeeded both locally and abroad.

"I admire young artists like you and the Government will continue its efforts to ease your work," he said.

The meeting discussed, according to a media statement, "best practices and international experience to create good cinema productions". Also discussed were the Film Industry Act amendments and the possibility of setting up a contributory fund drawn from advertising revenue.

"I see a lot of drive and ambition in the work of young Bulgarian artists. This creates intense competition in the film industry, from which only the audience wins," Borissov said.

The industry is likely to keep up whatever pressure it can muster on Borissov's Government, which imposed the changes to the legislation as part of wider austerity measures in response to the economic crisis that left Bulgaria hard-hit.

Earlier in 2011, eight associations, respectively representing Bulgarian cinematographers, film producers, directors, among others, jointly sent a letter to the Prime Minister and other top state officials urging a change that would see guarantees of a minimum subsidy for Bulgarian cinema.

Depending on whether Borissov follows through his headline promise of continuing support for Bulgarian movies, the industry will decide whether - to cite the Schwarzenegger ouevre's most iconic work - to cast Borissov as The Terminator.
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Title Annotation:Reading room
Author:Leviev-Sawyer, Clive
Publication:The Sofia Echo (Sofia, Bulgaria)
Geographic Code:4EXBU
Date:Oct 14, 2011
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