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THERE, Seattle Premiere

Thank you American Romanian Cultural Society for welcoming our Bulgarian community into your beautiful film festival! Thank you to my family, fiends and film lovers alike for made the journey to the movies!

Not one, not two, not a thousand social media posts could sum up the feeling of premiering THERE in Seattle in front of an audience of 200. One of many memorable moments was when a friend came after the film asking, “What would be one word for you to describe the film?” I looked into her eyes which were welling up with tears and was at a loss for words. She continued, “My one word would be - love.”

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From Bulgaria to Seattle, November 3rd, 2018

It’s 1995, the line weaves around the block of Uptown Cinema. An eighteen year old boy from Bulgaria has just immigrated to America. Since a child the boy fostered one dream - to make movies. The film the boy is there to see is Casino which, released on November 22nd that year. The boy makes his way to sit in the back row to get a better view of the audience and the screen - as if his eyes are a wide angle lens. A lens of choice for most of his own films years later.

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Post Bulgaria, There, Seattle

Two days to the premiere of the film. Two and a half months of filming, four months of post-production work which included editing the film as I filmed in Bulgaria. From the beginning I knew the story needed to be constructed chronologically. What you see on the screen is how it happened in real time during my timeless journey this summer. At the top of the photo is the edited timeline of the movie. On the left bellow is the timeline for the English subtitles and, on the right, the timeline of the sound design and mix done by the amazing Brian Sloss. Yesterday, I turned in the film to the festival organised by the incredible American Romanian Cultural Society in Seattle, today is opening night. See you Sunday!

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Bulgaria, week 1 through 10, THERE

Suspecting the emotional nature of my return, I briefly considered whether or not to make a film. Of course, the ever unfolding, ever revealing love for cinema prevailed and here we are. The camera pointed inwards, yet it strangely led me to a journey of many "chance" meetings and stories. Over the course of ten weeks, we met and parted in a shared fable much larger, and far more enriching, than the mental limitations my own life often imposes. I'm thrilled to share "There" with you all and am grateful to the Romanian Film Festival in Seattle (5th edition) for hosting the premiere on Nov 4th, 2018

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Bulgaria, week 10, THERE's goodbye

Ten minutes after taking off from Sofia airport the sunrise and the expansive sky and all the memories and all the years away come together to paint this vista. What a glorious ending, what a revelation, what an unfolding of new beginnings! What do the rest of the passengers feel staring out their porthole windows? Each in our own seat, each fastened in a flight of coming and going. Ten weeks in Bulgaria feel like ten breaths! Under the seat is my backpack with my camera and a hard-drive containing but a glimpse of the stories of many people Bulgaria gifted me with. After all of these years I realise it is not Bulgaria I have missed, but its people.

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Bulgaria, week 10, Iosif's Sofia

My last day here takes me, quite unexpectedly, to my elementary school. It is the perfect farewell ending for my documentary and my journey this past summer. Here my grandpa Iosif, who was a writer, came to read to us in class. How did he feel seeing his grandson in the front row beaming with pride and joy? I clearly remember the feeling as I looked up at him, the softness in his voice, his glasses, the flowers he would receive. Twice grandpa Iosif was accepted to study cinema - once in former Yugoslavia and once in the Soviet Union. Both times his dream abandoned him or, perhaps, he abandoned it. I will never know as I was but a child when we parted. Now, I live grandpa's dream and often think of him - he died in 2001 when I was already in the US with no chance to see him. I remember waiting tables, getting the call he had passed, the tears in my eyes. My shift could not end fast enough, sorrow and resentment building up in my heart. It took years to realize I never really said my goodbyes. My new documentary There is dedicated to my grandpa Iosif. I love you, grandpa, wherever you are!

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Bulgaria, week 10, a 'chance' meeting at the Seven Rila Lakes

Kaval player Zhivko Vasilev and I meet to film for the documentary Kaval Park. The day before Zhivko asks if I want to go film in Rila Mountain and meet up with his friend there. I readily agree even though the drive is much longer. The emblematic Rila lakes captivate my imagination as does the veil of fog, the vistas and horses grazing on the hill tops. Our guide is Plamen Myrianov - an architect and filmmaker from Sofia. I know right away we need to also film for my documentary There. Both Plamen and Zhivko are now featured in it and I couldn’t be more thankful for the “chance” meeting in this majestic mountain! Here is to making movies and being flexible in the process!

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Bulgaria, week 10, the kiss

One week left before a dreamy flight back to America. Winter is around the corner. It’s time for the big fire stove to be pulled away from the corner into the middle of the kitchen. It’s a time of snow, tea and stories I long to experience. Some day. For now, I help stock up on bags of coal - the manual labor is far more rewarding than imagined. The kiss from grandma in the end - all one really needs. Here is to all mothers and grandmothers spending the winter alone while their sons and daughters roam lands far away in search of the holy grail!

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Bulgaria, week 9, Painting Obzor

A month earlier my wife and I hitch-hike along the seaside. We decide to test life and see if there really is such a phenomenon as ‘chance.’ The first person who picks us up turns out to be a painter organising plein air painting. He is intrigued by our stories and desire to build cultural bridges between the US and Bulgaria. We spend three days in the seaside town of Obzor and meet over 30 artists from a dozen counties. The exchange of stories and ideas is invigorating. The Mayor shares with me his desire to do more for culture in Bulgaria. We discuss showing some of my films there next year. Now I just got to keep editing!

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Bulgaria, week 9, Kaval Park

I meet with virtuoso kaval player Nedyalko Nedyalkov and we film for the documentary opus - two years in the making - Kaval Park. I knew Nedyalko to be a brilliant musician, but what strikes me right away is that he is also a very progressive thinker and a true visionary.

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Bulgaria, week 8, back to Sofia's roofs

On the rooftops a quarter of a century after I last walked on them. We lived just a few rooftops ahead. Hardly a day passed without seeing my friends after school. The trick was to come home fast. Do homework even faster and then, we were off to play. The whole concept of extra school activity was foreign to me. We organized our own soccer games and chess tournaments. I can say I truly lived in timelessness - a state of being my step-daughter, twelve, is a stranger to. Her schedule, packed so tight, makes me question if I have been fooled as a parent. When does a parent need to draw the line of giving their children all the activities clever marketing of consumer-democracy promotes as every child’s birthright?

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Bulgaria, week 8, across time and space in Borovo

We travel to a village where some 25 years ago my wife used to spend her summers. Her grandpa, Angel, lived in the house across this one. “Here dwelled a boy with blue eyes. He looked after two white horses,” remembers my wife. The only way to enter is to walk on some boards across a gaping hole. Across the vacuum of space. I get the feeling one is always walking. Until we walk out to never return. What is left are memories, drops of water in the form of a house which still stands bowed down in front of the alter of time. Keeping my balance I feel my way inside. What will this abandoned life reveal?

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Bulgaria, week 8, Peshtera's grapes

My father was born in the town of Peshtera where my great-grandfather used to own several vineyards and make wine. I visited Peshtera for the first time this summer - delicious grapes literally grew in every yard. When the communists came into power in 1944 they took our land away. After the fall of the Berlin Wall the restitution began. But while people received land back, they lost fifty years earlier, few had the financial means to continue to cultivate it or sustain its infrastructure. Despite the faults of the communist regime it developed a strong agricultural and pharmaceutical economy which was pretty much destroyed by an illiterate transition to democracy which many say was already planned and executed by those in power before the changes.

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Bulgaria, week 7, our way

Another story from this magical place in the Rhodope Mountains. After a few unsuccessful attempts to take a selfie together we did it our way. Perperikon lives in the lore of people just like us. What lore are we going to leave? What was striking was that as civilizations captured the fortress here they didn’t destroy it but built upon its history. Hence the wide array of artefacts found here from different civilizations paint a story of a one human race growing in its awareness of its own shadow. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perperikon

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Bulgaria, week 7, Perperikon

Human activity here has been dated to 5,000 BC. Bulgaria is at a crossroads where culture after culture flourished upon more culture. Without a guide we would have been lost in speculation. When excavations began, almost 20 years ago, the Turkish population nearby set up guard at the site. The mountain top had been known to them for centuries and while it was sacred for Bulgarians, the Turks recognized its historical value. This act of civic duty prevented looting. Our guide told us the story as an example of tolerance and respect between Bulgarians and Turks living together in many southern cities and villages. When walking barefoot I discovered the rock to be soft and kind to the feet! I fell in love with this image as it is a living breathing set. All we need to do is dress as knights, monks or trolls, and as we say in Bulgarian, “Холивуд ряпа да яде!” (meaning: Hollywood can go eat radishes!) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perperikon

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Bulgaria, week 6, oh, dear father

Can you imagine not seeing your father for 23 years? I was 18 when I last waved goodbye to my dad. My relationship with him as a child was inspiring and full of samurai advice and adventures in Vitosha mountain - right on the outskirts of my hometown Sofia. When I emigrated in ‘95 I didn’t see my mom for nine years. Year after year she made the fated journey to the US embassy, year after year she wa denied a visa. Can you imagine a mother’s longing and pain? When I saw her come down the stairs at the US customs I was taken aback by how much she had aged. I didn’t recognise her face and had to look away ashamed of my feelings. (Skype was a rarity and she never liked her picture being taken.) Likewise, when I took my dad in the mountain this summer I had to turn away in tears several times. Last time we hiked together he was a little older than me. Robust and agile. Today, he was walking with a cane. As we descended back the slopes night befell us. I gave him my headlamp and held his hand as he felt his way down. Our reunion was a ritual orchestrated by this great mountain I love so much! Yesterday was Bulgaria’s national holiday - the Unification. It is my wish for any emigrant of any nationality to be reunited with their loved ones sooner than later.

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Bulgaria, week 6, Vitosha's embrace

Every weekend during the warm months we took the lift up the mountain. We hiked and had picnics. We laughed and played. Our two Great Dane dogs ran ahead of me and my sister. We were a family. Those are my memories from the 1980s and now, living in Seattle, I appreciate more than ever having had Vitosha mountain so close to my hometown Sofia. So close that, in fact, one can get there using public transportation and have the mountain experience I know I certainly need more of these days. Taking this picture today I realise what a relief it is for the eyes to scan the horizon far and away. To feel the immense power of possibility unfold across the mountain range.

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Bulgaria, week 6, water is life

Mineral water flows in the middle of our capital Sofia as it does in many cities and villages across Bulgaria! We're truly rich, yet we look for wealth and status in the dead ends of mental pollution. Water is structure and agility. Water is constant and ever changing. Water is memory! Life! Love!

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Bulgaria, week 6, Sofia

Drinking mineral water which flows in the middle of our capital Sofia. When I was a child I didn’t appreciate this gift our city offers. I am reminded how much, with what patience and love the land here has given, gives and will give 23 years from now.

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Bulgaria, week 6, fly me a sea

I meet bai Slavi, a seasoned paraglider and 'a ruthless seeker of Truth' as he says in his own words. I speak with him on several occasions and, one morning, I film him verse with brother wind along the stunning Black Sea coastline of Irakli. If you wish to learn to paraglide, Slavi gives lessons so be sure to connect with him next summer at Irakli. Just look up and you will spot him!

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