“Viktoria” Director Maya Viktova on the Difficult Journey To Make Her Directorial Debut
Maya Viktova is a writer-director and producer. In 2008, she executive produced Kamen Kalev’s debut feature “Eastern Plays,” which premiered at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight in 2009 and was nominated for the Camera d’Or. In 2009, Viktova founded Viktoria Films, producing two shorts written by the 2015 Silver bear winner Radu Jude, and her debut film “Viktoria,” which was the first Bulgarian feature ever in competition at the Sundance Film Festival (World Dramatic Competition), International Film Festival Rotterdam (Hivos Tiger Award Competition), and many others. (Press materials)
“Viktoria” opens in NYC April 29 and LA June 10.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
MV: “Viktoria” is a visual, silent, emotional, and very personal film. It is the story of an unwanted child, born without an umbilical cord to connect it to its mother, who didn’t love it. Viktoria enters the world curiously missing a belly button, and is thus declared the Baby of the Decade of communist Bulgaria.
Pampered by her mother state, she lives happily until November 10, 1989, when her decade of notoriety comes crashing down with the rest of European communism. But can political collapse and the hardship of new times finally bring Viktoria and her reluctant mother closer together?
W&H: What drew you to this story?
MV: The key situations in “Viktoria” happened in my own life. It is a semi-autobiographical story about my relationship with my mother, happening against the background of Bulgaria’s political, social, and cultural transition. “Viktoria” takes place in the last decade of communism and the first decade of the so-called Bulgarian democracy. It wasn’t until I wrote the first treatment of the film — overnight — that I realized this story was with me for a long time.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
MV: I want them to call their mothers — if they can.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
MV: It took me nine years to make the film. It has been an immense effort to stay with the idea despite all the hardship. The project had a flying start, experts and tutors at the workshops and programs I did with it said it was truly an original idea. But then I was a first-time filmmaker, on top of that a female director — yes, it’s harder — and it soon felt like a catch-22. Yeah, we’d give you the money, but you need to be experienced in order to get it. How can I be experienced as a feature film director if that’s my debut film? That took some time.
Then I had lots of trouble with the first producer of “Viktoria,” whom I strongly disagreed with on how and when to make the film. I’ve been developing the project for over three years and we didn’t move forward. So I tried to obtain the rights over my own story back. It took me nine months. But then the National Film Center insisted that I couldn’t be a debut director and producer on the same film. There was another producer and it took, funnily enough, another nine months to get my rights back again. The two battles took both time and money — 30% from the budget of the film, as the producers were spending.
At the end of the second nine months I gave up — I said to myself, “It’s obviously not going to work.” The next day I woke up to a call from the Bulgarian National Film Center asking me to go and sign the contract to produce the film through my own company.
“Viktoria” has been a long pregnancy. That was the biggest challenge. But then we were shooting only five months after I took over as a producer and the film premiered at Sundance. It was the first Bulgarian feature ever in competition there.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
MV: The project had a long history. It was selected for the Script&Pitch Workshop, the Balkan Fund of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, the Berlinale Talent Project Market, the NIPKOW Programm (Berlin) the EKRAN Programme of Andrzej Wajda’s Master School of Film Directing (Warsaw), the Phare Workshop (Bucharest), and more.
The development financing came from the MEDIA Programme (currently Creative Europe), Vienna Film Fund, and the Bulgarian National Film Center. The production financing came from the Bulgarian National Film Center and I co-produced the film with Anca and Cristi Puiu’s company Mangragora, based in Romania. My production company, Viktoria Films, also based in Bulgaria, also invested in “Viktoria.”
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
MV: The best came from the editor of “Viktoria,” Alexander Etimov, who unfortunately passed away shortly after we finished the film: “It’s not a sprint — it’s a marathon. Save your power and breathe.” That kept me going. Once you see the film you will understand what I mean — I’ve been writing, directing, and producing it.
The CGI took us four months, the sound design (the film is 100% rerecorded) took us 100 days with no day off, and while doing my job as a director, I was busy with accounting and financial statements, contracts and so on. There were moments when I thought the postproduction would never end. And whenever I felt this way, I’d remember Alexander’s words. I still keep his last text: “Don’t work too hard. Take a rest. Breathe.”
The worst advice: “Watch out: Everyone will be examining your work under a magnifying glass.”
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
MV: Strive for excellence! Even if the film business is more or less a man’s world, you can really do better than men and time will prove it. I’m very proud of not compromising with the quality of “Viktoria.” Even if one dislikes the story — or the director — they can’t say a bad word about the quality of the picture, sound, music, and CGI. We did our best and they say the film has a very high production value. So, if I am to give any advice to a female director, I’d say to do your best and you’ll have it all coming to you one day — if you don’t live in Bulgaria.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
MV: It’s not only one film. My favorite female director is Andrea Arnold. I fell in love with her “Red Road” and “Fish Tank.” She’s a great storyteller, amazing with actors, has a brilliant sense of humor, and her films are very emotional without being melodramatic. Arnold has a strong, distinctive directorial voice and I simply love her work. I can’t wait to see her upcoming film “American Honey.”