Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov • Directors-producers of Triumph
“This story is a remarkable metaphor for the fake democracy that we have been living in to this day”
- Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov talk to us about their new project, Triumph, which scooped the Eurimages Co-production Development Award at Rome’s MIA
“A very original story that has real contemporary relevance. The events portrayed seem quite unbelievable... yet they are absolutely true. Absurd but tragic, the film will certainly have much to say about some of the most obvious failures of contemporary society.” With this statement, the Eurimages Co-production Development Award jury at the 2019 MIA in Rome, made up of Fiorella Moretti, Ewa Puszczynska and Tobias Pausinger, awarded the Bulgarian project Triumph (see the news). We chatted to its directors-producers (from Abraxas Film), Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, about it.
Cineuropa: Tell us about Triumph and how the project began. Is the story inspired by real events?
Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov: Just like the previous two films in the trilogy, Triumph was inspired by a real event and, of course, the newspaper article about it: “Guarded by Kalashnikovs, high-ranking officers are digging in search of extra-terrestrial intelligence”. That was the first publication about a notorious military operation that took place between December 1990 and September 1992 in a village close to Sofia, which nobody had heard of until then. Those were very turbulent times, as the country was in a deep political and economic crisis, people had nothing to eat, and governments were coming and going. The military, in particular, were running amok, left without enemies or masters, and forced to downsize by 80%. They were desperate to find a higher purpose. So, on the orders of the general headquarters and under the patronage of the president’s homeland-security advisor, a special task force of generals, colonels and mediums, who were allegedly channelling messages from an advanced alien civilisation, started digging a hole in search of an artefact that would turn Bulgaria into a great power. Those people set up a field camp at the excavation site, which was literally next to the village pub. Mind you, the operation was highly classified. They lived there in trailers and tents for many months, digging with picks and shovels, because the machinery was allegedly malfunctioning due to some invisible force field around the buried object.
PV: Kristina has a vivid memory of the camp, as she frequently used to pass by with her family on their way to their summer house on the far side of the village. As our trilogy is about the absurdities of post-communist Bulgaria, we feel that this particular story is the pinnacle of the absurd and a remarkable metaphor for the fake democracy that we have been living in to this day, but it also speaks volumes about the things that people do in desperate times.
As we read in the synopsis of the film, the main characters are a sick, ageing general who is hoping to immortalise his name, a colonel who is seeking to help his intellectually disabled daughter, an opportunist who finds a way to make easy profits, and a medium who feeds her hunger for power and adoration. Are they fictional or inspired by real people? Do you already have any actors in mind?
KG, PV: Our films are inspired by real events, but they are not biographical. The characters, even though they have their prototypes, are largely fictional. What they represent is not really for us to say; we prefer to leave those interpretations to the audience that will, one day, hopefully, see the film. We have signed up Margita Gosheva, our leading lady from The Lesson [+see also:
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film profile] and Glory [+see also:
interview: Petar Valchanov
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film profile], for the central role of the medium who channels the telepathic messages from space. We have a few ideas about the rest of the ensemble cast, but nothing final yet.
What will be the general tone of the film?
KG: In the vein of our previous films, we will teeter on the edge of the hilarious and the tragic, following the natural flow of the action and letting the situations speak for themselves without pushing them artificially. Those who have seen our previous work can get a good idea about what to expect, tonally. We mustn’t forget, though, that the absurdities in this story surpass everything we’ve made before, by far, so one of the challenges will be to avoid slipping into overt satire, keeping it human and real. Also, the unique setting of the story will definitely present some unexpected opportunities and will likely influence the visual style, to some extent.
What stage is the film at, and how helpful will the Eurimages Co-production Development Award be? What are the next steps for the Triumph project?
KG, PV: We are currently working on the second draft of the script together with our co-writer, Decho Taralezhkov. A MEDIA development grant and a low-budget production grant from the Bulgarian National Film Center are already in place. Our long-running co-production partnership with Greek company Graal Films will be extended to this project. We’re also in talks with further parties interested in co-producing. If all goes well, we should start filming in the winter of 2020/21. The Eurimages Award will definitely help us to perfect what is essentially a very challenging ensemble script and find the right partners for the project.
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