After two decades in the British animation industry, Mina Mileva created Activist38 with actress Vesela Kazakova, whose leading roles earned her the Silver George at the Moscow International Film Festival in 2005 and the Shooting Stars Award at Berlinale International Film Festival in 2006. Mileva and Kazakova have directed and produced subversive documentaries, which, according to Variety, act as “rare gadflies whose sting is causing a massive allergic reaction on the thin skin of Bulgaria’s filmmaking elite.” Their first fiction film, “Cat In The Wall” received the FIPRESCI award at the Warsaw Film Festival 2019 and was part of the EFA feature film selection 2020.
“Women Do Cry” is screening in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. The fest is taking place July 6-17.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
MM&VK: A colorful piece of contemporary Bulgaria that captures the power, baldness, and beauty of women.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
MM&VK: As with our other films, it was the desire to unveil stuff swept under the carpet. We wanted to give voice to emotions locked deep inside for decades. The story was constructed fluidly, in the process of making this film itself, which was more like a physiological study than a film.
German psychologists claim that, generally, trauma can be dealt with only 25 years after traumatic events take place. It is a bit like Communism — only now, 30 years after the changes in Bulgaria, are people starting to discuss the past.
Despite the personal element in our film, we’re glad we managed to find a convincing structural frame.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
MM&VK: We’d like them to be touched as people often do with reality programs. This is why we’ve kept a strictly realist approach with a lot of what you may call a documentary feel. The audience will also be amused as there’s a fair amount of humor and lightness, which was particularly difficult to achieve.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
MM&VK: Our process for this film was different from anything we’ve done before. In order to preserve the emotions and authenticity, we relied on improvisations and an unusually structured shooting period. At the same time, the scenes were carefully staged and a lot of work went into mise-en-scène as well as preparation with the actors.
We had to strike a sensitive balance between real stories and fiction and how our participants — the Kazakova family — felt about it.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
MM&VK: We struggle a lot with funding in Bulgaria. Usually, one or two films receive proper funding with two or three other forms of low-budget support per session. Typically, there are over 500 production companies trying to get this support. For this reason, we usually plan for a low or microbudget production and put effort into forming a good co-production.
Also, we don’t let financial struggles drag us down. We find ways to always advance the process. We both work as producers as well and that helps the cashflow. Patience is very important. In our case, substantial financing came from France — ARTE France, Île-de-France, and Eurimages.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
MM&VK: Initially, it was this sense that something unfair is happening. Such was the case with our first and scandalous film, “Uncle Tony, Three Fools and the Secret Service.” The animator, Antony “Tony” Trayanov, was a victim of totalitarianism and the way the film industry and its hierarchy were set within such a society. For this reason, AFI European showcase recognized it as very insightful and boundary-breaking.
When uncomfortable truth comes out in good filmic form, it’s very effective and has the power to transform ways of thinking.
W&H: What’s the worst and best advice you’ve received?
MM&VK: We’ve lived through some pretty turbulent times in our short careers.
When our first film was banned in Bulgaria, many people said, “Don’t react. Think about your next movie.” Logically, it felt like a good advice, but we noticed that it came from enemies. For example, such advice came from the man running the Bulgarian filmmakers union at the time, who threatened to quickly see us in jail.
Because “Uncle Tony” actually made a splash in our own film guild, many colleagues tried to see us in court. They also told us to change the title because they said the Secret Service didn’t exist. We’re glad we didn’t change it. All this was very bad advice. In any case, never change the title of your movie under pressure!
As for good advice, consider the time a well-known journalist back home approached us. He told us that, in the wake of our movie, we must protest, shout, and scream — otherwise we’ll never be allowed to make another film again. He asked us, “What is the most drastic thing you can do now? Could you go on stage for the live broadcast of the National Film Awards and announce that there’s censorship in Bulgaria?” Even he was surprised that we managed to do it.
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
MM: My professor in the academy told me women may be good professionals, but soon after graduating they start cooking, washing, and caring for their husbands. And we must confess that’s often the case. The advice would be to relentlessly fight for your vision, your way of working, and your intuition.
VK: Speak about your film in technical terms. All the time we hear male directors talk about their directing and how they managed various technical hurdles, how they plotted stuff, how they worked with actors — so we, women, have to learn how to speak highly of our art.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
MM&VK: This is a bit like naming a favorite book. There are so many influences, depending on what we’re working on. Historically, our country has enjoyed strong women directorial voices because women were fairly emancipated during Communism.
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?
MM&VK: It was a useful time, especially in spiritual sense. We used the time to reflect on ideas and general strategy and what we want in the long run. As we also produce, there’s always something to push, something to advance on.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make it more inclusive?
MM&VK: As the Bulgarian journalist advised us, make noise. We have to amplify BIPOC voices and give stage to many of them. This will make our cultural world richer.