Prof. Ivaylo Hristov: Love for theatre will overcome our fear

While writing a screenplay, I can see the locations, actors and colours of the future film

I really love black and white cinematography and I think it is appropriate for such a rough story to be dressed in a black and white narration. There is a special aesthetic in it, which I personally like very much, Bulgarian actor and director prof. Ivaylo Hristov says in an interview to Monitor.

Prof. Hristov, you have presented recently your new film, Fear, at the Apollonia Arts Festival. It tells about a difficult love story, which faces the disapproval of a conservative rural community because one of the main characters is a black refugee. Is this the main theme of the film?

The theme about refugees is just a background against which the whole story develops. The main conflict is between the individual and the society. It is about a person who takes a decision, which scandalises the others, but she (the female main character) will have to overcome all the hardships that happen to her.

I have shot the film on the Black Sea's south coast of Bulgaria. I come here every summer and I have been to these places many times, so I know them very well. While I was writing the screenplay, I could “see” the locations and I knew where and how the plot would develop, so these locations “came to me” on their own.

 It is notable that lately the word “fear” has become more and more common in the titles of art works. What triggers fear in your film?

 In fact, the title originates from the catchphrase “I'm sick and tired of being afraid”. It is articulated by the main female character, played by the actress Svetlana Yancheva. It is really about a fear of the other, fear of the stranger. It is about a fear of doing something which is unacceptable for people in general, such as living under the same roof with an African man. Fear of taking a stand and fear that when you announce it, someone can say, “How can such a thing happen?! Who are you?!”, etc. That is, actually, the fear of being human. But the fears of the main character will have to be overcome as she is sick and tired of this. She takes a firm decision and stands her ground.

Against the backdrop of the unprecedented problems which the Covid-19 crisis poses to humanity, does the theme of fear of the others become more serious or it becomes dull and fades out in the background?

I cannot judge in a global sense because I have not seen it, I have not felt it, and I do not know if the coronavirus pandemic has shifted the focus elsewhere. But migration is something that is happening and it will continue to happen. I cannot see anything wrong if people are looking for a better life, especially if their birthplace, where their roots were, no longer exists.

The black US composer Michael Fleming, who has been living in Bulgaria for years, participates in the film, along with some real refugees from Afghanistan. Have their personal human stories touched you in some way?

Surely, I know their stories. We found people for the roles from the refugee camp situated in the town of Harmanli. Firstly, the producer Asen Vladimirov got in touch with the administration of the camp, he went there and my assistants took pictures. Then we chose the actors from the photos. They all turned out to be wonderful people. Probably, all sorts of refugees exist, but I came across very good people. A man at the age of 30, from Afghanistan, was on his way to Germany, together with his mother, his wife and child. He was an architect by profession and spoke five languages. His mother was a fantastic woman, with an impressive face, with a beautiful and soft radiance. She was making contact slowly and with difficulty, but I felt and realised during our conversations that she was an extremely warm and loving woman. I am very happy that I met these people and that they changed my notion about the country of Afghanistan and about what kind of a person an Afghan is. Because I had the impression, created by media, that the Afghans are men who are wearing turbans, beards and machine guns.

 Why do you prefer to work in black and white now? Fear is shot in black and white, as well as your film Losers before it.

Yes, but my other ones are colour films. In general, I can say that while I was writing the screenplay, I was “seeing” the film in such a way. I could see my locations, my actors… I could also see the colours. My next screenplay, for example, will certainly not be in black and white. In the case of Fear, this black and white format came somehow out of the very story. Moreover, I really love black and white cinematography and I think it is appropriate for such a rough story to be dressed in a black and white narration. There is a special aesthetic in it, which I personally like very much. There is also symbolism there: the love between a black man and a white woman, the black and white worldviews of some people who do not recognise any nuances.

 Lately, you turn to directing films more and more often, and you rarely appear as an actor in theatre and cinema. Are you tired of acting?

I still take part in several performances - The Lonely West by Martin McDonagh at Theatre 199, Ivanov by Anton Chekhov at Youth Theatre. We gather again at the Bulgarian Army Theatre for another performance of Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll by Eric Boghosyan. But I haven't been on the payroll of any theatre for a long time, and I prefer to participate when a good title or author, a suitable role and a good company are there.

I am about to start directing at Theatre 199. We are starting work on the play that won the last edition of the competition for contemporary Bulgarian drama, named after the actress Slavka Slavova. It is called Garbage and its author is the actress Elena Telbis, who was a student in one of my classes.

Last month I finished shooting in a film by Martin Makariev. The working title is In the Heart of the Machine, but I do not think it will remain the same. We play a group of prisoners there and my character's name is Daskal.

 Did your current students, who will be in their fourth year now, have to study acting remotely during the quarantine?

There is no way to study acting remotely. We had Zoom meetings, but this is surely not a contact of full value. Our work is on the stage, face to face with the spectators. On these online platforms we can only talk about some books, movies that we are going to watch and … that's all. But during those few months, when our academy was closed, we still used to meet every week and the students were given different actors' tasks. At the end of this cycle, I had them film themselves the way they would be filmed at a casting - with a monologue from a movie, play, whatever they want. Then we collected these fragments and sent them out to people who own casting agencies in order for them to see these good young actors who will graduate from the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts. I've learned that some of them are already shooting here and there. I hope they will succeed with these engagements.

Do you think that theatre will fully recover after the anti-epidemic restrictions are lifted or the audience will still be afraid to enter the theatre halls?

The public appeals, that we need to learn to live with the coronavirus, maybe also mean for theatre halls to be full of audiences again and full-fledged performances to be staged again. Now, when I meet different people, many of them tell me: “I miss going to the theatre so much, I haven't gone for so long.” I suppose that the love for theatre will overcome our fear.

 Close up

Ivaylo Hristov was born on 10 December 1955 in Sofia. He graduated from the department of acting at the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts, Sofia, in the class of Prof. Sasho Stoyanov. Then he worked at the Sliven drama theatre (1980-1985). Later, he was an actor in the troupe of the Bulgarian Army Theatre for a long time, where he played dozens of roles. He has participated in over 50 feature films and TV series and has directed nearly 30 theatrical performances: Will Chaste Womaniser, Old Clown Wanted, Rabbit Hole, Time Has Stopped, Nice Fish, etc. He directed also the films Emigrants (as a co-director with Lyudmil Todorov), My Friends Call Me Uncle, Footsteps in the Sand, Losers (which won the grand prix - the Golden George for Best Film at the Moscow Film Festival, 2015) and Fear.

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