A penchant for travelling

My career of a producer with Arion Productions and Les Films du Cyclone was a truly gratifying experience of a cinephile, as well as a means of promoting original authors whose projects were in line with my taste for geography and my penchant, as a cinephile, for travelling.

My work in Bulgaria logically continued the course of my professional life in movies: I came to produce the works of cineasts and to become well acquainted with a country and its different people and their stories. Only this time I came to anchor in a place where obviously I was useful.

The fall of the Berlin wall accelerated the abandonment and impoverishment of a country sunken in oblivion. My personal commitment followed a different course; I invented my 'Bulgarian trace’; there came into being SOFILM – an independent instrument of screen production which enabled us to draw in various films and do their production under the best conditions. We built an activity backed up by a specific mission as we participated in the restoration of a country and of a profession, and in that way I placed my experience of a 'French’ producer at the service of the situation that had arisen … My arrival in Sofia, at a period of chaos and transition, was rather of an epic nature, but the significance of the task, and the richness and intensity of the human relations were more than stimulating and decisive for the choice I made.

As an independent producer I was a member of numerous commissions to the National Film Centre in France and, in particular, of the commission of the ECO Fund which provided financing in advance and was oriented to the East European film producers after the fall of the Berlin wall. Our aim was to help the writing of scripts and give purposeful financial assistance which would encourage coproductions with French producers. After my mandate was over, I got involved in the Bulgarian cinema working, first of all, with Peter Popzlatev, and after that in five other feature films and documentaries. After a selection according to genre and format, all those films participated in a panorama of the Bulgarian cinema which I organized in Paris in January, 1998, with the aid of Gerard Vaugeois and Films de l'Atalante.

And so, in 1990 I travelled to Sofia for the first time. My acquaintance with Konstantin Pavlov, Bulgarian poet, writer and dissident, was of a vital significance. Peter Popzlatev, the director of 'I, the Countess’ – a remarkable first movie, wanted to make a film of a script that Konstantin Pavlov had written. The second film of Peter Popzlatev, 'Something in the Air’, laid the beginnings of my cinematographic adventure in Bulgaria. And the first Franco-Bulgarian coproduction is also our doing. Then came the second coproduction when, together with Valeria Sarmiento, we decided to shoot the film 'She’ in Sofia. It was of a script written by Valeria in cooperation with Raoul Ruiz, her long-time companion, and it was strongly influenced by Luis Bunuel's 'EL’.

And that was the last film of Arion Productions, a society I had established in Paris at the very beginning of the '80s. Its precarious financing condemned it to failure in France as well as in Mexico. Then Bulgaria became a refuge and an unexpected partner in production activities.

Pierre Beuchot made 'Secret Companions’ for ARTE; it was produced by Eric Dussart and Chantal Perrin who set off on the same 'Bulgarian trace’ which helped them to realize the film. Other productions followed that example and, in that way, I became for the professional guild an ambassador, economic and cultural player with a certain prestige; and for my French colleagues I was the effective means that helped make up for the inadequate financing.

There was a succession of productions most of them associated with the historical period of their scripts and the availability of some specific sets, as well as with the great variety of natural sites that Bulgaria offers. In Bulgaria nowadays, as well as in the past, the costs of production are among the most competitive in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, the determinant factors for a 'travel in Bulgaria’ are the local technicians, actors and suppliers of services. And here I would like to give them my full credit for their professional skills, their talent and their amicable spirit: they have always been considerate and efficient partners in the not so simple enterprise of film-making.

However, my taste, interest and passion for the cinema could not be satisfied only within the limits of that pursuit. I have established a foundation that organizes regular meetings which are called 'La classe libre’. Its programme of subjects is worked out in collaboration with Charles Tesson, former chief editor of Les Cahiers du cinema, and it comprises films and film extracts presented by visiting lecturers. More than 80 famous personalities: producers, historians, philosophers, critics, essayists, directors of different organizations, came to Sofia to show and talk about 'their’ cinema.

We also organized exhibitions and, in particular, the exhibition devoted to the contemporary digital art, and we invited cultural institutions like the ARTE television channel, the FRESNOY National studio of contemporary art and the ARTPRESS magazine.

Bulgaria…that human, cultural and economic adventure, as well.

Patrick Sandrin