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Film Centre

Film Centre
The development of filmmaking in Bulgaria began with the advent of the first documentaries in early 20th Century, and the first feature film starring Vasil Gendov “Bulgaran is Gallant” in 1915. The funding comes from private investors, public and state funds. The ongoing process of industrialisation of film production was intensified thanks to the First Cinematographers Act being passed in 1930.

Potential producers began to emerge: The foundation “Bulgarsko Delo” which begins production of newsreels, “Pobeda Film” Ltd. launched the construction of the technological complex for filmmaking, and “Rila Film” which furnished the first set location. Until 1948, when the new law on cinematography came out, the private initiative was still alive. After that date, the film production base and its assets were fully nationalised, thereafter a State company – “Bulgarian Cinematography” was created.

Back in 1945, Russian experts in film work were invited to assess the film potential in Bulgaria. They become aware of the superb conditions for the development of the film industry with the outstanding and diversified landscape, the beautiful scenery, the glittering Balkan waters and more. As a result of their report and recommendations, the government began preparing the construction of a major “Film Centre” near Sofia. The Bulgarian architect A. Mihajlovski, who is familiar with the structure of film studios in France, England and Germany, had his project approved. The location near Sofia however was not warmly welcomed. In addition, opponents of the idea insisted the future “Film town” be somewhere else in Bulgaria.

In 1946, The National Assembly passed a law authorising the foundation “Bulgarsko Delo” to conclude a loan of 110 million Lev for the needs of the Bulgarian cinematography, “A specialised film city with the necessary technical equipment” to be created in the vicinity of Sofia.

In 1947, the concept of “Film City” was jointly developed with Russian film experts, and the government has approved the initiative that a certain number of would-be film avid be sent abroad to specialise in the field. During the same year the construction of the “Film Centre” began with many builders volunteering their labour. There are several studios for artists, extras and directors that were foreseen. Special workshops where films ranging from sciences reels, cartoons, and puppet plays were produced. With an accelerated pace, film-processing laboratories, sound departments, artistic and administrative departments and others were built. These premises are meant to house working facilities that match those of the most developed film centres in Europe. For this purpose, the help from experienced foreign specialists was paramount. Besides being in the vicinity of Sofia, the “Film Centre” was being built at the foot of “Vitosha” mountain, in a picturesque surroundings with a wide variety of landscapes, ideal for outdoor set locations. The production complex is terraced on three panoramic levels adjacent to the ground of the land. It is situated asymmetrically because of the particular surrounding environment.

In 1949, while the “Film Centre” Boyana was still under construction, a new studio of the State company “Bulgarian Cinematography” was furnished in a former tobacco warehouse in the street “Luben Karavelov” in Sofia. This is where the first movie “Kalin the Eagle” of the new revolutionary authorities was filmed.

In 1957, five of the planned twenty buildings were already built – a film-processing laboratory, a central heating system, booths within central buildings, a workshop for decorative carpentry, and the film production base. The construction works of these buildings lingered on for more than three years due to financial difficulties. An invested 21 million Lev turned out to be insufficient. The complex of three pavilions of the “Film Centre” disposed of an area of 2,800 sqm at that time, but only outdoor filming was possible during construction. It was expected that the new pavilions permit filming throughout the year on 112 types of platforms, which to a large extent meant to avoid traveling around the country in search for suitable locations.

Before the construction of the “Film Centre”, the average cost of a Bulgarian film was estimated at 3,23 million Lev. It was anticipated that once the future film complex is finished, the costs of filming would be reduced by about 50,000 Lev. Moreover, before the new studios were built, film stocks that were processed here had to get their colour treatment abroad at high costs. These expenditures would be avoided with the launch of new film-processing laboratories. The plan was that 15 features and 127 educational films be produced annually to include sciences, cultural and other subjects in pavilions equipped with mechanisms designed for quick location setup with cameras that were able to produce films for the widescreen. In 1959, the workshop for scenery, the building of the thermal-power plant and film vault, as well as a modern film-processing lab were completed.

In 1959, the Bulgarian-German co-production film “The Stars” who received a special award – second Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, was partly shot in the still under construction “Film Centre”.

In 1960, The “Film Centre” is well in operation. The machinery and equipment in the film laboratory are functioning in full swing. The development and copying of film stock (black and white and colour) are fully automated. The dosing and control of chemical solutions  becomes  automatic, and the system of extracting silver from waste solutions is functioning as well. The film vault that stores movies, and which employs more than 70 professionals was completed. The carpentry and decoration workshop, as well as the  cartoons department are working under full steam. The work on the main building with three notably very large pavilions for the time, is still underway. The studios are equipped with special installations for ventilation,  temperature control, sound and more. The floor was made sturdy by means of several layers of concrete, sand and heavy-duty wood.

The “Film Centre” was completely finished in 1962. The complex consisted of 22 buildings where 1,200 employees  worked. When it went into service in 1963, it became a powerful base providing a complete technological cycle of film production. The production of feature films sharply increased. For instance for the period 1970-1980, 194 films were produced according to Ivan Popyordanov.

The film production bases in Bulgaria, which were under the umbrella of the Public Association “Bulgarian Cinematography” until 1990 are: Studio feature films “Boyana”, “Studios Tsonev” and documentary studios  “Ekran”, Studios for popular sciences films and documentaries “Vreme”, and the Animation Studio “Sofia”.

By 1989, “Boyana Film” was the largest production house in the Balkans producing 20 features, 25 television and 50 animated films per year.

In 1990, Bulgaria was recognised for its significant potential for film production. The process of privatisation then began, but procrastinated for a long period of time, and had gone through difficult and erratic progress.  In 2006, the company “New Image” becomes the full owner of 95% of the capital of “Boyana Film”.

This page has been prepared using the “Collection of archival documents from the press”, compiled by Kostadin Kostov and Magda Kostova, and was provided to us courtesy of Alexander Donev.

This information is drawn from the article by Ivan Popyordanov “Film Industry of East of Eden”, issue 2/2007, “Cinema and Time”.

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On 01.12.2014, Sofia joins the network of creative cities of UNESCO, and was awarded the title "City of Film". The certificate was presented by the Director General of the International Organisation Mrs. Irina Bokova, the Mayor of Sofia Mrs. Yordanka Fandoukova


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