Short Film Corner 2022
Vanina Kondova & Kalin Ivanov
LOST & FOUND ABROAD
May 7th, 2022
An immigrant actress facing an expiring work visa gets her heart broken in both love and career. She struggles in New York, follows a boyfriend to London, runs into Brexit, and goes through a culture shock back home.
Hello Vanina & Kalin, it’s great to get to talk with you, how have you been keeping after everything that’s been happening?
Kalin: The last two years have been challenging with the pandemic, but I managed to find ways to move forward with my projects. The time spent in lockdown gave me a chance to pause for a while and look inward and reevaluate the importance of human interaction.
Vanina: I went home for a vacation right before the pandemic and ended up staying for two years. I took a breath, and then immediately started looking for things to do and write about. I remained productive and continued writing and filming. The very recent events - the war in Ukraine and its proximity to Bulgaria, are something that has really shaken me. Inevitably, you start wondering what’s the point of doing art at all and have to reevaluate and reconnect with yourself.
Have you been able to remain creative at least?
Kalin: Oh, yes! Old and new ideas started germinating in my mind. Some appeared on paper, some are still in my head but it has been a productive period. I also became a father for the first time and that gave me the greatest joy of all and the least amount of sleep. But as we all know sleep is overrated. Raising a human being is a very creative enterprise.
Vanina: I think pausing is very important for the creative process. It’s when the unconscious kicks in. I have become more creative since the pandemic and have grown, both as an artist and a human being. I realized there’s really no time to waste in doubt. You can’t think a script, you have to sit down and write. I shot 4 episodes and began filming a feature film international co-production while putting together a team for my film production company.
What does it mean for you both to be a part of the Cannes Short Film Corner with your Lost & Found Abroad and what do you hope to take away from this experience?
Kalin: I am thrilled to be a part of the Short Film Corner at Cannes, and so proud of our Lost & Found Abroad! I am looking forward to all the great films and talented filmmakers I can meet during the event!
Vanina: I’m excited and terrified at the same time. I’ve never been, this will be my first time attending. Whatever happens, it will be an adventure.
Your series Lost & Found: NY had an amazing reaction and collected some awards, did you imagine you would get this type of reaction for the series?
Kalin: I knew all along that our project was hardly “lost” and every time we got “found” by an award or a festival selection it made me very excited. We built the web series on love - love for the characters, storytelling and last but not least love for New York. Audiences respond to love.
Vanina: Things like festivals and awards did not even cross my mind when we began. And I’m grateful for that. I think that if I had been imagining attending Cannes at the time, I would have overwhelmed myself so much that I would have judged everything through that lens, or maybe wouldn’t have started at all. We did build everything on love. We were very good friends already and we love the work.
Did you always know you would return to Lost & Found at some point and would you consider creating another web series?
Kalin: I knew more Lost & Found was coming my way. The story is rooted in real-life experience so it is only normal to continue telling it.
Vanina: There was a running joke among us - every time something ridiculous would happen, we would laugh and say “This goes into the next one”.
How did Lost & Found Abroad come about?
Kalin: As the old adage goes: When one door closes another one opens, that is what happened - the door on one project that we had been working on for some time got loudly shut, we felt so bummed out and decided we should focus on this energy in something else, something ours. This is when Kalina (the main character) entered the scene and the rest is history.
Vanina: I had been helping out other people with their projects over the years, kind of in the background. And I had grown very tired of giving my best, while not having any control over the outcome. Starting Lost & Found was a very simple, non-pretentious endeavour but it was an internal revolution for me. I had to say to people “This is my thing. Do you want in?”. It was hard to find the courage to say that. But people started saying “yes” and it turned out surprisingly easy.
Did you have any apprehensions about tackling such salient and contemporary themes?
Kalin: This is real life. The situations our main character goes through are common everyday events for so many. Dealing with getting a visa to stay and work in the US is like a maze, a rabbit hole. It sucks you in and one can easily get lost.
Vanina: I go with themes that are important to me. If they matter to me, they will matter to at least one other person out there and that’s all I need. Immigration, cultural identity and confusion, following your dreams (whatever they are), feeling at home, feeling disconnected, feeling lonely, age and gender discrimination - they all sound big but it’s what many people deal with every day. At least, it’s what I deal with on a regular basis. I face them by writing about them, trying not to lose my sense of humour.
When writing and directing a project like this do you draw from your own life and experiences when creating your characters?
Kalin: When I read the script I see the characters in my head. I know them, I’ve seen them before, I’ve talked to them. So, yes, it is based on real-life experience initially but it slowly takes a life of its own when the actors sink their teeth in it. And at the end, it is alive with its own life story and experience. Being an immigrant myself helped me when directing.
Vanina: The script is heavily based on real-life experiences but they are just that - a base, a topic to start the conversation with.
What has been the most challenging aspect of making Lost & Found Abroad?
Kalin: COVID hit us in the middle of the process. The lockdowns made us reinvent the ways we communicate and work together.
Vanina: Funding has always been a challenge. I owe a lot of favours to a lot of people.
With a screenplay like this how close do you like to stick to the text, do you allow yourself or do you cast much flexibility?
Kalin: I feel the text is written in a very accessible way. People really speak like that. The cast is always welcome to experiment with the lines but at the end, we go back to the script and we stick to it I’d say 90% of the time.
Vanina: I work on the text a lot to make it sound as natural as possible. We organize read-throughs and we always rehearse with the actors prior to filming. But if an actor has a recommendation which in my opinion adds a layer or tightens the action - I would always accept it. I also consult with the native English speaking actors about the language and make sure it feels right.
Since the first series and now with this new film what would you say have been the most surprising things you have discovered about yourself?
Kalin: My appetite for directing has grown exponentially! I started observing the world around me and its inhabitants more closely. I look for inspiration everywhere around me.
Vanina: I discovered I can lead a team and have a talent for bringing people together. I had no idea I could do that.
How important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking between you both as well as co-direct you both took on other roles on this project?
Kalin: The scenes are drawn from Vanina’s experience but the spark that started it all was our collaboration and friendship. We are a great producing team with Ana Atanassova and Daria Zara Kondova! During the filming, each one of us wore many different hats. When you work with people that you love and admire it gets so easy to move forward.
Vanina: I’m constantly aware that I couldn’t have done it alone. People are attracted to positive energy and it becomes easier with time. But it was just me, Kalin and our co-producers, Ana and Daria, in the beginning. They were the first people who said “yes, let’s do this”.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
Kalin: I vividly remember waiting with my Dad in a very, very long line to get tickets to watch old and rare movies at the only cinema in Sofia that would show these movies. He would buy tickets for several movies during the week. I remember sitting in the dark with him and my mom and watching World Cinema Classics and being very excited about it. That’s how the seed was planted and it grew from there. In my 20s I decided that filmmaking is what I want to do and changed direction - left the University where I studied Physics and applied to the Film Academy in Sofia.
Vanina: I started in the theatre where everything happens in that particular moment and then is gone. As amazing as the immediate connection to the audience is, I became very attracted to creating something tangible, something to leave behind. Becoming a filmmaker to me was also directly connected to my frustration with living as a freelance actor and the lack of artistic control in the creative process.
Photo credit: Kim de Souzy
"Under a different name, in a different country, under different circumstances, we are all experiencing what our character is going through."
Has your background as an actress helped inform your approach to writing and directing?
Vanina: It has helped me immensely but it is not an automatic given. I have spent years analyzing texts and I know what an actor needs, so writing has been an intuitive process for me. As an actor, I can identify good from bad directing in seconds but this doesn't necessarily mean I always know what to say to actors as a director. It also goes the other way: I believe I have become a better actor since I became a filmmaker. I have learned so much about the craft from the editing process, for example. And I find actors endearing. I’m very familiar with all the insecurity, fretting and ego involved. But it’s now funny to me when I’m being asked about the poster before we’ve even gone into post.
Do you have any tips or advice to offer future filmmakers?
Kalin: Write down your ideas and let them breathe for a while. If you still find them interesting when you revisit them, start developing them. Watch movies, read books, meet and talk to people - what a hard life! And create as much content as possible. Don’t wait for the perfect circumstances to tackle a project, do it against all odds.
Vanina: Be brave, be prepared, be respectful of everyone’s time and work whether it’s your colleague or the make-up artist, know your place, do what you’ve promised, don’t give an attitude, don’t make excuses, communicate. Be easy to work with.
Is there any advice you wish you had known before you started out on your filmmaking journey?
Kalin: Don’t be afraid to fail and make mistakes. You’ll learn more from that than you can ever imagine. And drink plenty of water when on-location shooting.
Vanina: I agree with Kalin. Being afraid of making a mistake will paralyze you. Trusting yourself and trying without anyone’s approval or permission is so hard to do but it’s also so freeing and rewarding.
And finally, what would you like audiences to take away from Lost & Found Abroad?
Kalin: I’d like the audience to feel they know Kalina. Under a different name, in a different country, under different circumstances, we are all experiencing what our character is going through. This is what makes us humans - we feel the same feelings and have the same desire for happiness.
Vanina: Ultimately, this is a story about searching for a home - a place of comfort, be it personal, or professional. I hope the audience will feel that comfort. And smile, because it’s supposed to be a comedy, after all.