Ivaylo Hristov is a Buglarian actor, screenwriter and film director. His feature film debut Emigranti won both the Audience Award and the FIPRESCI Prize at Sofia International Film Festival, while his second film Footsteps in the Sand premiered at Tirana, Moscow, Sofia and Love is Folly International Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize. Hristov’s third feature Loserswon Best Film, Best Leading and Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Sound at the Bulgarian Academy Awards. Losers was selected as the country's submission to the 89th Academy Awards, but was not nominated.
In an exclusive interview for Filmatique, Ivaylo Hristov discusses finding inspiration in real life, his passion for movies, the transition from acting to directing, and his next project.
FILMATIQUE: Losers tells the story of Koko, a teenage boy whose relatively uneventful life changes when a rock band comes into town. The film is imbued with warmth, humor and observations of the transitional stage of life when one is no longer a child but still not quite an adult. What was your inspiration for this film?
IVAYLO HRISTOV: I have many friends who are musicians and I have been with them on tour more than once. The story of Koko and his friends came to me in a small town where I saw with my own eyes what an event it was for this town, or more precisely for the teenagers there, to attend a concert that evening. It was about noon— the technicians were building the stage in the center of town, the musicians had not yet left Sofia— but already the square was starting to fill with young boys and girls. The girls had on heavy evening make-up and were carrying D&G bags, while the boys wore a fair amount of gel in their hair. I was sitting in a nearby café watching this scene. Everything seemed funny and ridiculous, and at the same time poetic and exciting. I witnessed that great moment when a caterpillar became a butterfly, when those boys and girls turned into men and women. Fate was gracious to me and offered me this plot!
FLMTQ: The impressive magnetism between the teenage characters draws the audience into their word in all its detail and idiosyncrasy. Can you briefly discuss your casting process for this film? How did you find the actors, and how did you work with them to cultivate these naturalistic performances?
IH: I did not make a casting for the movie because all the actors are my former students. I know their abilities and qualities, and I have followed their development as professional actors. While I was writing the script, I knew very well which role each of them would play, as I could consider their capabilities as actors and their personal and social qualities. All of this made it easy for me.
FLMTQ: Despite its light touch, Losers does open onto certain sociocultural issues beginning with the fact that Koko's parents live abroad in order to earn more money. To what extent would you say the film is an accurate representation of small-town life and family relations in Bulgaria?
IH: As I said, I travel a lot, so I have had in-depth observations with the average Bulgarian. Life in the capital is very different from life in small towns. Moreover, despite the reproaches I received for presenting the country in an unpleasant light, I can argue that this is actually the real picture.
FLMTQ: The film's title is echoed diegetically when a character explains that a loser is "a person born in Bulgaria," calling forth the frictions or anxieties experienced by those living in one of the newest EU member states. How do you see relations between Bulgaria and the rest of Europe manifest in everyday life, and to what extent did you want to make Losers a political film?
IH: I am not sure that a precise translation of the Bulgarian title Karatsi is possible. It does not exactly mean 'losers.' There is warmth and irony, even self-irony in the meaning of karak. People who are karatsi could be smart, sensitive, and talented, but they just do not have good luck. Sometimes God makes fun of them just for entertainment. I am sure that there are such people all over the world. The warm reception of the film in all the countries it was shown is evidence of this. I, personally, like such people; they are extremely amiable to me. If these losers from all over the world were to make a party, I think it would be the one with the largest membership. In this sense, the film can be considered political.
FLMTQ: Losers has been compared to the works of Aki Kaurismäki and Roy Andersson due to its dry, acerbic with. What influences, cinematic or otherwise, were most essential to your creative process?
IH: It is a compliment to me that the film is compared to the works of Aki Kaurismäki and Roy Andersson. They are great directors, and I think highly of them. As an incorrigible movie fan, I know and follow the work of many directors who I will not mention because the list will be too long. I regard them as my teachers, and I thank them for their lessons and inspiration.
FLMTQ: Besides directing this, your third feature, you have previously had a successful career as an actor. How did you transition from acting to working behind the camera, and how did your experience with the former benefit you the most with your filmmaking?
IH: As I said, I am a helpless fan of movies. I even used to run out of school to go to the movie theater. Over the years this interest has deepened, and the transition from acting to directing happened by itself. One morning, my friend Lyudmil Todorov offered me the chance to direct a film he had written. I was not prepared for such a proposal and hesitated for a long time. Due to his firm insistence, I agreed to do it. Together we directed the film Emigranti, and it became not only my debut, but also something like a university experience in cinematography. Today, I do not regret having taken the risk, and I am grateful to Lyudmil Todorov for this opportunity.
FLMTQ: Are you working on any new projects, and if so, can you tell us a bit about them?
IH: Just a few days ago, I finished shooting my new film Fear. It is about the fear in us which prevents us from communicating normally with other people.