The end of the Cold War was a turning point in the history of the twentieth century. The dissolution of the ‘Eastern Bloc’ brought to its members a new social, political, economic and cultural reality. Each country that took a direct part in the events was facing trials; terms designed to give these challenges names appeared in the public space, such as ‘transition from planned to a market economy’ and ‘transition from totalitarism to democracy’. The change processes took place slowly and with a different intensity determined by the country’s specific national, geopolitical and economic characteristics. In Bulgaria, the start of the changes is usually marked on 10 November 1989 when the Communist Party announced that Todor Zhivkov, its First Secretary for thirty-five years (since March 1954) had stepped down. The date is acknowledeged as the start of the fateful period of transition.
In Bulgaria as well as the rest of the Eastern European countries, social attitudes at the time had already begun being established in the prior decades when social tension had accumulated slowly but surely. Simmering discontent was the companion of every totalitarian regime, ultimately turning into its typical trait. There was constant pressure for change in the socialist system, expressed in a different manner in each country; the peak was in the mid-1980s when the USSR began their ‘perestroika’ aiming to make the seething masses quiet.
Todor Zhivkov showed little interest to have The People’s Republic of Bulgaria be part of the changes. Earlier in the 1980s, the country had celebrated the 1,300th anniversary of its foundation; that involved grandiose cultural events, including film super productions the realization of which demanded exorbitant funding. The period was followed by a decision, considered as one of the most shameful in the history of the country: the communist party passed a decree aiming to change the identification documents and names of the native Turkish and Bulgarian Muslim population replacing them with Bulgarian names. This forceful attempt at assimilation went under the official name ‘Revival Process’ and ended with a mass exodus by the repressed masses. The aforementioned historical events are important in order to be able to trace the accumulation of discontent and the change in social perspective throughout the decade ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Post-1989 free speech and expression of discontent were no longer out of legal bounds and the mood began changing considerably. The intensity of the political processes and the extremely unstable economical context seemed to marginalize cultural life. Cinema, television and printed media had started their own transformation like the rest of the social and economic spheres. This was to be a slow and painstaking process marked by the contrast between optimistic expectations and reality.
Market restructuring affected specialized film publications. Adapting, they underwent a change in organization, themes and appearance. Their topics of interest began to be dictated chiefly by the market, current events, and consumers taste. Arguably, the printed media at the time can be divided into two categories: the successors of publications from the communist era and the new media of newspapers and magazines. The distinction between the two is important because by and large, it was what determined the character of each publication, the content, as well as the manner in which said content was offered to the reading public.
New magazines and newspapers were founded for different reasons; among those cited most often was the necessity to respond to market demand and the opportunity for self-support through sales and advertising. By the end of the 1990s, the advent of the Internet and its widespread use as a main source of information was still a Science Fiction shimmering dream in Bulgaria. Throughout the decade printed publications were still the main force dominating the media world and setting its rules. Thus, many new players went into business with their own visions, dreams and ideas but most of all, with a shared drive for success and profit. Among them were cinema periodicals that were not necessarily linked to the ‘seventh art’. Often, their products were part of a set of publications covering different areas.
From an aesthetical point of view the ‘window display’ of the printed publications market in the 1990s was chaotically multi-colored. Not only film magazines but many others, too, followed the lives, trials and tribulations of Hollywood celebrities and the glamour and glitz of the red carpet. There were colorful photographs, striking covers and luxury paper. Scandalous front page announcements beckoned readers. It is fair to note that specialized film publications covered consistently and with due commitment the dramatic transformation of Bulgarian cinema and television.
Successors of magazines from the communist era
‘Kino’ magazine (1991 – present)
The official house organ of UBFM is being published in Sofia and was the next in line after its predecessors ‘Kino i Foto’ (‘Cinema and Photo’) (1946-1951), ‘Kino’ (1951-1955) and ‘Kinoizkustvo’ (1955-1991). The magazine consistently introduced works and people from foreign film schools, covered in detail festivals (Bulgarian and those abroad), led discussions, debates and roundtables on issues concerning filmmaking as a whole and in Bulgarian cinema, in particular, giving voice to them on its pages. It is the only specialized film publication in print in Bulgaria, which, thanks to its well-selected editorial team of film critics and filmmakers, has always had the status of a scientific publication too.
Post-1989 ‘Kino’ magazine went through a period echoing its early years: uncertainty in direction and ideas and inconsistency of its team and leadership. Its editor in chief Emil Petrov left in 1990 and UBFM assigned Lyuba Kulezic as a deputy-chief and Kalinka Stoynovska as head secretary. Lyuba Kulezic became editor in chief in 1991 and it was after her suggestion that the magazine acquired its 1951 name ‘Kino’ in lieu of ‘Kinozikustvo’. The motivation behind the change was not only the magazine’s search of identity but the desire to reflect the overall change, too; something to suggest the magazine was shedding the typical ideological approach from the communist era.
‘Filmovi Novini’ magazine (1955-1968-1993)
This monthly publication was the house organ of the Culture Committee (from July 1990 the Ministry of Culture) and UBFM. It was published in Sofia. In 1990 the magazine continued to follow its editorial policy from before the change – critical analysis but a more open form of dialogue with a wider audience. There was no change in the design, headers or format. It even managed to keep its price of 0, 80 levs until the end of the year. The cover was black and white; the title was showcased on a red background. As an organ of UBFM, the magazine managed to support itself on sales alone, without any state funding.
Following the changes the editorial team made a bold move: “…euphoric at the dawn of democracy, we decided that we were going to make our magazine exactly like those of its kind on the western world – glossy and in colour, hoping that the increased cost of production would be justified by the jump in sales. The sales figures shrank by half instead – people had no money. In 1991 and 1992 the flow from sales was enough only to cover the production cost and profit was paltry. Be that as it may, until its last day ‘Filmovi Novini’ managed to avoid spending a single cent of UBFM’s funding, despite the fact that we had identified a clear necessity of extra funding in the future.‘‘
The magazine was out for the first time in March 1993, following its predecessor ‘Filmovi Novini’. Ironically, while it had supported itself prior to 1989 as an organ of UBFM, after the changes in Bulgaria the magazine found salvation in the state-owned publishing and printing house ‘Rodina’. “With state funded help from ‘Rodina’, our editorial team tried to save ‘Film’ as a cultural product preserving the character of ‘Filmovi Novini’. Avoid turning it into a glossy gossip magazine, conserve its territory for serious critical thought, while aiming to reach the widest audience possible. However, Bulgarian cinema almost vanished in the 1990s, while Hollywood entertainment took over the silver screen, encroaching on European cinema – as such, the essence of the magazine was somewhat lost.‘‘
‘Interkino’ magazine (1991-1993).
It was published in Sofia as the monthly edition of ‘Interfilm’ company. It used authorial content and translated works from foreign magazines. The price was 4, 90 to 5, 90 levs and a typical issue contained between 24 and 28 pages. In essence, ‘Interkino’ was the successor of a Bulgarian magazine that had been in print in foreign languages—‘Bulgarski Filmi’.
Visually, the magazine attempted ‘to be different of its predecessor ‘Bulgarski Filmi’, but keep the same polygraphic direction – in color, on more luxurious paper.‘‘ One factor behind this decision was the changing market where ‘Interkino’ was looking for its niche among other publications. The covers were colorful and glossy, while its insides were printed on lower quality paper. There was a search for a balance between color and monochrome pictorials, between topics that sold and serious analysis. The processes of change happening in the country were covered promptly on its pages.
Newspapers in the early 1990s.
Between 1991 and 1995 there were several newspapers specializing in film that share too many features to be presented separately. They were all published in Sofia. These are: the first private cinema newspaper ‘Boyana Film Express’ (1991) and its successor ‘Film Express’ (1991-1992); ‘Kino, Video Parad: a monthly newspaper for cinema lovers’ (‘Cinema, Video Parade: a monthly newspaper for cinema lovers’) (1990 – 1992); ‘7 Dni Video, Kino, Sat TV’ (‘7 Days Video, Cinema, Sat TV’), the weekly of the advertising and publishing house Dannif Press (1993-1994) and ‘Hit Video: a monthly magazine for video and cinema (1993-1994). Their appearance and content, even their editorial teams were almost identical. Their volume varied between four and twenty pages and their price – from 2, 48 levs to 5 levs. They were published every week or every fortnight. At the time video release distribution and multi-channel television were widespread in Bulgaria. Some newspapers emphasized that in their headlines, for example: ‘News on cinema, video and television’ or ‘TV programmes, ratings and shows’.
From the point of view of content, it is striking what an astounding amount of attention was paid to the life of Hollywood stars, sex on screen, horror movies, and special effects and make-up. The cliché ‘sex sells’ was in full swing – all listed newspapers took advantage of it continuously, including through visualization. A great deal of the content had an unabashed focus on gossip. Editors used the language of populism and gave credibility to the degrading label ‘kinadzhia’ that alludes to filmmakers as crude craftsmen. The typeset and the polygraphy of these publications were multi-colored and garish – they did not ‘catch your eye’, they poked it out.
‘Ekran’ magazine (1996-2009).
In June 1996 the first issue of the specialized film publication ‘Ekran’ was published in Sofia. The last issue was to come out in November 2009 after which the magazine continued its life in digital form as <www.ekranbg.com> and survived until April 2010. The editorial team of the first few issues consisted of only two people, Ekaterina Limoncheva and Maria Valchanova. By the end of 2004 the group had grown and roles were assigned within the editorial team.
Over the years many present day established film critics and journalists penned articles for the magazine. In terms of concept, format and realization ‘Ekran’ was profoundly different from any of the cinema periodicals published in Bulgaria up to that point. The project was the work of 19-year-old Trifon Gyatzov, who was an avid film and computer games fan; he designed the first four issues himself.
The magazine was on the market for a little over ten years, its last issue in print was in November 2009. It was then published online at <www.ekranbg.com>, preserving some of its features: news, box office, reviews. But the information was not always up-to-date and the quality of the materials was unsatisfactory. In my interviews with them, the editorial team and publishers pointed out a number of reasons for choosing to go the online route such as financial difficulties, a small niche on the market, the change in culture with more people opting to use the Internet, etc. Whatever the reason, it is important to stress that the online version did not save ‘Ekran’, which came to an end in April 2010.
‘Kinohit’ magazine (1998-2000).
This monthly film and video publication was initially published by Sun Publishing House, Varna, and later on by Kinohit Ltd., Sofia. The editorial team consisted of Georgi Nenkov, Konstantin Lyutikov, Maria Neshkova and Rumyana Yaneva. They used authorial content as well as translated foreign materials and printed the magazine in color on luxury paper. The price varied between 2, 49 levs to 3, 99 levs for 52 – 96 pages. ‘Kinohit’ was the second magazine after ‘Ekran’out of new publications, to be in print in two consecutive years. The content followed what was on offer by film and video distributors. The goal of the publisher was to make a magazine like “the American commercial type, refraining from the information model of gossip press.” Pieces were informative and entertaining. There were a number of features such as news, box office, filmographies, data on filmmakers and stars, curious little facts, festivals and a little of Bulgarian cinema. There was plenty of information on film and video premieres. The amount of advertising is rather striking – 10 to 15 pages per issue. Inside the cover all foreign sources were promptly listed (‘Variety’, ‘Screen Int.’, ‘Premiere’, ‘Total film’, etc.), which was a precedent for that period of time.
In those years the market kept narrowing for other monothematic publications as well (music, history, culture, etc.). Reasons could be found everywhere but the main ones were the inhospitable market environment and lack of funding. Readership’s purchasing power was too low to justify the existence of enough quality press. Cultural reality changed as well. Gradually, specialized programmes dedicated to cinema disappeared from the television schedule. Internet shaped new habits in gathering information. A discussion opened on the advantages and disadvantages of paper and digital carriers—the impact on the environment was another matter for the new kind of buyer to consider.
For a brief period of time at the start of the new century it seemed as if the alternative for the development of all such publications was to have online websites or feature on the blogs of film critics and journalists. At the end of the day, that approach did not achieve widespread popularity, either. Today, it would appear specialized film publications have found their best place in polythematic informational and cultural guides and portals.
New technologies and Internet had already changed the face of the world within the first decade of the new century and in the last five years smartphones and smart TVs, e-readers and social media, the entire online environment have begun undergoing inner transformations, happening in a matter of hours. Such intensity of process means that cinema as art, followed by film critics and journalists still have not found their rightful place on the Internet. Furthermore, with IT acting as a catalyst for the fast change of pace in cultural realities, printed film publications around the world have turned into collectibles for aficionados. But while in countries with established cultural traditions there is still a big market for that type of publications, it seems there is no interest in them in Bulgaria. At the beginning of the new century, specialized film publications have turned out to be an unproductive segment of an intensely, continuously changing market.
The text is funded by the PROGRAM IN SUPPORT OF YOUNG SCIENTISTS IN THE BULGARIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCE.
The author, translator and editors express their gratitude to the project.
Interviews. Personal archive:
Aleksandrova, Petia. Interview, October 2016. Personal archive.
Chernev, Oleg. Interview, June 2016. Personal archive.
Dimitrova, Iskra. Interview, September 2013. Personal archive.
Limoncheva, Ekaterina. Interview, September 2013. Personal archive.
Statulov, Deyan. Interview, June 2016. Personal archive.
 Dimitrova, Iskra. Interview, September 2013. Personal archive.
 Dimitrova, Iskra. Interview, September 2013. Personal archive.
 Aleksandrova, Petia. Interview, October 2016. Personal archive.
 Kinohit monthly, No. 1, August 1998.
The text participated in the ,,Art readings“ conference in 2017 and is printed in its book.