Dir. Tonislav Hristov | Finland/Bulgaria 2016, | Doc | 82 mins.
In a remote village deep in the Bulgarian countryside only 36 people turned up to vote in the local elections. Great Dervent is crumbling to the ground and clearly on its last legs but resourceful local postman Ivan has a regeneration plan. Wealthy Syrian refugees have left traces in the decrepit school building in their search for a new home, and Ivan suggests to the villagers that they all gather round and welcome the newcomers into their community. Some agree but some are sceptical that the refugees will take over the few remaining jobs and prove a threat with their ‘criminal’ ways. And who can blame these hospitable and decent people who are used to their own kind and unaccustomed to outside influences?. There is no internet here but the media has not helped matters, whipping up a sentiment of zenophobia with negative TV reportage that fuels the growing climate of ultra-right nationalism.
Glowing with the bucolic splendour of this lush land in the extreme South on the border with Turkey, Tonislav Hristov’s documentary is cinematic and soulful in tone, but very much along similar lines as the recent Ukrainian Cowboys (2016). Ivan the postman does not only deliver letters but also tea and sympathy to the ageing villagers, even doling out advice on water bills and medical help, he fervently believes the Syrians are a good thing: “Together, between us, we’ll create a good environment in the village”, “there will be children and they will laugh”.
Typically it is the latest immigrants to the village who are the most hostile about Syrians and other newcomers. Ukrainian wayfarer and recent arrival Halachev has taken a strident anti-immigration stance, considering his own credentials. Setting up a cranky electric organ on the common he preaches a negative diatribe: “Bulgaria for Bulgarians, the Syrians are worse than Gypsies”.
Hristov’s rather rambling but watchable documentary is accompanied by a mournful occasional score of folkmusic. It is a sad and rather pitiful story that contrasts sharply with the region’s peaceful and gently rolling countryside. As Ivan’s kindly wife sighs: “you remember a man for his goodness. People danced. Now nothing”. And clearly Ivan is a good and persevering man who will be remembered for his generosity of spirit in a fight that very much connects to a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world. MT
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FESTIVAL | 6 – 17 March 2017