‘I like this film! Creative and intimate!’
Although it is Valery Lekov who calls himself Roma Quixote in this film of the same title, this imaginary name could more generally be applied to the other three protagonists as well. Each of them have their dreams and their ‘windmills’ that they are fighting for or against. This documentary was made by Nina Pehlivanova and Petya Nakova in Bulgaria in 2013. It presents the diverse lives of four protagonists and their families who are living in the ambivalently modern Bulgaria. Despite all their differences, they share some definitive similarities, thanks primarily to their wider social and cultural position.
For instance, all of them are influenced to a certain extent by the phenomenon of economic migration: two of them have family members who live abroad (Valery and Dalila), one of them is an immigrant (Svetla) and the poorest amongst them (Emo), when asked whether or not he would leave the Roma neighbourhood, resolutely answers ‘no’. Valery introduces the Roma neighbourhood where he was raised in Kyustendil, Bulgaria – or the ‘ghetto’ as he calls it – as a place where ‘people live hard lives’. His work as a radio reporter for Bulgarian National Radio in Sofia means that he is assimilated, and he lives in a modest yet mortgaged flat. He yearns to buy a farm, but this daydreaming doesn’t stop him from being a neighbourhood organiser and activist who improves other people’s lives.
It may be true that ‘a ghetto is a psychological barrier’, as one of Valery’s interviewees says, but Valery’s creative and ambitious life can be seen as disproving this insight. Nevertheless, he also has great difficulties, for his wife lives and works abroad, in Greece, in order to make ends meet.
The same is true of another protagonist, Dalila, whose parents live in Sweden. Dalila does well in her classes while attending the Professional High School for Light Industry, and she is committed both to becoming a hairdresser and moving to join her parents in Sweden. Svetla is a Bessarabian–Bulgarian from Ukraine who now lives with her Roma husband, Zhivko, and her two children in the Roma neighbourhood. With these protagonists at different levels of the social hierarchy and at different stages of integration, it is Emo who occupies the lowest level, as he lives in a much poorer part of the neighbourhood. Furthermore, his parents are illiterate, and he finds it difficult even getting to classes and attending school.
The stories of these people are loosely connected through Valery. He conducts an interview with Emo and accompanies his wife to the hair salon where Dalila is working as a trainee hairdresser. Following the stories of these protagonists, the viewer learns about their lives and obtains more and more information about the social and cultural life of the neighbourhood. The final sequence shows Valery with his beehive, Emo with his pigeons, Dalila at work in the hair salon, and Svetla walking on the streets with her child and her mother from Ukraine.
The film ends with the recurring motif of a horse-drawn coach moving slowly through the streets of the Roma neighbourhood, along with Valery who acts as a local guide. The viewer gains close-up insights into many different aspects of the little town through Valery’s subjective, intimate and friendly narration, while at the same time being given an objective point of view about the post-socialist Bulgaria and the social and economic situation of its Romani citizens. Valery’s final statement of Valery is enigmatic enough to cause the viewer to contemplate its meaning: ‘So this is it… Roma Quixote without Cervantes’. How can we solve this riddle-like rhetoric? Perhaps it implies that Valery was not born from someone’s imagination, but is a real Bulgarian version of the original literary figure of Don Quixote. Moreover, he himself is the novelist of the Roma Quixotes’ lives and the ambivalent process of their integracija.
Premiere at Sofia Biting Docs Festival, 2013
23rd Film Festival Cottbus, Germany, 2013
Millennium International Film Festival, Brussels, 2014
International Festival of Ethnographic Film Sofia 2013
Golden Rython, Plovdiv, Bulgaria, Пловдив, 2013
Golden Linden, Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, 2014
Nomination for documentary debut by Bulgarian Film Academy, 2014
Screenings: Sofia University, in a Department of Sociology class, initiated by student Sarah Bozhinova; Sofia University, a free screening organised by student Petar Petrov; Bar There, Veliko Tarnovo, organised by Amalipe; Plovdiv, organised by Amalipe – Plovdiv; Plovdiv University, Faculty of Economy and Social Sciences, organised by Gergana Doncheva, PhD; Shumen, organised by Amalipe – Shumen; Kyustendil, Roma neighbourhood; Doupnitsa, organised by Tanya Sokolova of Dupnitsa Municipality together with the health mediators – Dupnitza and Community Center Spartacus; Hayredin village, Municipality of Vratsa, ‘New Road’ Association