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Christina Nikolova about living with faith, love and… films

СнимкаChristina Nikolova was born in Bulgaria to a family of film-makers, both camera operators. Her mother Emilya Stoeva lectures at the Krastyo Sarafov National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts, her father Georgy Nikolov has made many of the movies of prominent film director Ivan Nichev. And although it was only natural for her to follow in their footsteps and take up cinema, when she was in her last year at the English language school, Christina decided to go to America to study economics. So, at the age of 17, she started at a college in Chicago. But very quickly she realized she would never be a whiz kid with figures and opted for…film-making. She admits at the beginning it was difficult – she had no Skype, no money for phone bills and she was unable to contact friends and relatives for days. She felt like an orphan at the other end of the world.

After graduating in Chicago Christina left for Los Angeles. She refused to do as everyone else does – work as a waitress until she found a job in the film industry. A week later she was hired as camera operator for a low-budget “awful” as she puts it project. Still, she was working on a movie! In the years that followed she did all sorts of things – from filming to editing to directing and producing films. Gradually more and more of her friends decided to come and make their films in Bulgaria because it is so much cheaper and because here they could hire real professionals. Christina traveled with them. She was director of photography of two documentaries – Death and All the Way Back and Modus Vivendi by Bulgarian film director Zornitsa Sophia. Christina says her work is first and foremost creative. “You must have a keen sense of motion and light,” she adds. However, her mother insisted she continue her studies in USA. And Christina complied.

“I applied for a master’s at three different universities –at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, at Columbia and at the American Film Institute. I was admitted to all three but I opted for the one that was offering me a scholarship. That was how I found my way to the Big Apple. And that was the best choice I could make because I studied film directing. I spent five years at the university, that is where I met my husband and gave birth to my son Christopher.”

Her husband Paul Dalio is also a film director and when she wrote her screenplay for the film Faith, Love and Whiskey, he helped adapt it and gave her his support every step of the way. The film is very personal, telling the story of a woman and the choices she makes in life, of her dilemma – which road to take, whether to listen to her heart or to choose a financially secure future. “Most people, when they make their debut, tend to choose their own personal experience and start from there. That is what I did – I wanted to tell the story of what had happened to me when I go back to Bulgaria every summer, of my friends, of the loves I had abandoned. Perhaps the movie is an attempt to rationalize the fact that I am an emigrant,” Christina says. But her film does not actually tell an emigrant story, it is a love story, Christina says. The female protagonist is played by the Macedonian actress Anna Stoyanovska, who in fact resembles Christina very closely. “Anna is my film version – she is taller, prettier, she is really cool,” the film director says. How did she arrive at this character?

“Milcho Manchevski, the wonderful Macedonian director of Before the Rain was one of my lecturers in New York and we know each other well. I was looking for an actress for the role of Nelly and one day it occurred to me that Macedonians have a special kind of charm and a sense of freedom, something that really appeals to me, so I asked him to recommend a “fiery actress”. And he answered: “I have just the actress you need – she is fire itself.” I had already chosen Valery Yordanov for the male part and when I introduced them to each other they hit it off right away, there was chemistry.”

Actor Valery Yordanov wasn’t chosen for the part, the part was written with him in mind. “He is an incredible actor, of the highest Hollywood rank. His aura, his conduct conveys virility, silence and peril. He is very intelligent and this is a combination that works,” Christina Nikolova goes on to say.

The film shot in Bulgaria and in USA has been shown at numerous festivals winning many awards – The Golden Rose for debut at the Varna Film Festival in 2012, the Grand Prix at the International Film Festival in Dallas, the Emerging Filmmaker Award at the New Filmmakers Forum in USA, the award for best European film at the 29th Mons International Love Film Festival, Belgium. At the International Film Festival in Baja, Mexico in 2013 Faith, Love and Whiskey was awarded a special diploma.

Today Christina is working on her next screenplay for a feature-length film.

English version: Milena Daynova

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