Viktor Chouchkov • Director of 18% Grey
“I can’t remember a time when the future looked so unclear”
- We chatted to Bulgarian director Viktor Chouchkov about the challenges of releasing his film 18% Grey in the era of the pandemic
It took Bulgarian director Viktor Chouchkov a decade to develop, fund and finish his second feature, 18% Grey [+see also:
interview: Viktor Chouchkov
film profile], and the film's festival premiere in the main competition of the Sofia International Film Festival had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. Here is what the director has to say about his movie, the consequences of the health crisis on a small national film industry and also about the future.
Cineuropa: What impressed you the most about Zachary Karabashliev's novel when you first read it?
Viktor Chouchkov: The novel is like an odyssey about a man and his fight to survive, gaining and losing things along the way. I read it in 2011, and it made a deep impression on me – the main hero has dreams of liberating himself in a different place. I am from a generation where many wanted to move abroad. Maybe that is why I am attracted to stories about people who want to forge a life away from their homes, about a search for some “fresh air”. What it means to be “better” somewhere else intrigues me.
The movie explores the relationship between a man and a woman, faced with various challenges in a different culture, and these are sometimes even more complicated when things are happening away from relatives, under different circumstances. Through this couple, our aim was to tell a contemporary story, which in particular relates to people who emigrate – for the world is on the move more than ever before – and to explore what has happened with our understanding of where our home lies.
Photography is an important part of the story, and you are also a photographer. Do you see yourself at all in the protagonist? How much was the Zack from the novel changed so that he would suit your needs in your film?
The script is loosely based on the novel. The story in the book takes place in America and had been written 15 years prior. We decided to move the whole story to contemporary Europe, and inevitably, certain things shifted. During the pre-production process, I immersed myself in exploring British society and culture, with its old traditions and class differences. I wanted to create authentic characters, and that’s when I started to work on the script in collaboration with Hillary Norrish and Dolya Gavanski, who also plays the protagonist's wife in the movie, and has lived and worked in the UK for many years.
The whole time, I was trying to put myself in Zack's shoes, and to sense the world through his eyes in photography. This is something I do, trying to catch important moments around us through visual media, so I guess there is a lot of me in the main character. Zack is searching, observing, growing up; his journey is full of unexpected occurrences, too. You never know what will happen, who you will meet, how your life will change. The journey itself is our desire to find some kind of unity with the world around us.
18% Grey was supposed to compete in the main competition at Sofia in March. How does a director feel when his work cannot meet the audience?
It feels strange, but I remain an optimist and believe that the movie will soon meet an international audience at festivals. Something has happened with our sense of time and this feeling of an uncertain future. You cannot be very happy when you work so hard on something for many years and you cannot share it or show it in the normal way. Of course, we are looking for alternative ways. It’s a difficult situation for all my colleagues.
Your film is one of the very few Bulgarian movies whose story is set almost exclusively in another country. Do you think this kind of extensive co-production work is still possible now?
The movie was shot in the UK, Belgium, Germany and Bulgaria. I don’t think something like that can be done in the near future, as restrictions are now in place. This is a picture made physically on the road. It's an international project with an international team.
What can you say, as a director and producer, about the effects of the pandemic on Bulgaria? How would you evaluate the reaction of the authorities in the cultural sector?
The consequences are the same as they are in all other countries. The differences depend on the local authorities and how they assist the industry with its recovery. I can’t remember a time when the future looked so unclear. The government could have done much more to support the artists; however, culture is not a priority on our politicians' agendas.
Are you interested in telling a new story as a director? What about your producing work?
I am working on my third movie. The story is about a man who travels to the UK during the pandemic in order to save his relationship. He ends up in a particular circle of people, albeit maintaining a certain distance, during the London lockdown. Through a personal story, we reveal a contemporary social portrait of UK society and beyond, mixed with characters from different backgrounds and of different nationalities. The script is currently in development. As a producer with my brother Borislav [Chouchkov], we are finishing the production for Shakespeare Like a Street Dog by Valery Yordanov and are working on several minority co-productions, such as Mihai Sofronea's The Windseeker, Stefan Arsenijevic's Strahinija and Oleg Novkovic's Living Man.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.