Interview with filmmaker Ina Sotirova

We spoke to Ina Sotirova, whose film ‘freedom2dance’ was screened at Let’s All be Free Film Festival 2014, and found out more about her inspiration and filmmaking process.

 Tell us about your job, what you do.

I’m a freelance multimedia journalist, meaning that I tell real world stories in writing, images and video. I enjoy the freedom of my profession, how it both stimulates and engages my curiosity, how much I learn about the world with every project. In terms of freedom2dance and other short films I’ve made so far, I’ve been what they call a one-woman-band: I produce, I shoot, I edit and I also try to market and publicize my work, although that last part still escapes me. I also do field and associate production work on feature-length documentaries. Going forward with CosMuSart Productions, the multimedia production company I co-founded with sound artist Tamara Montenegro, we’re looking to build a solid creative team for projects ranging from documentaries and travelogues to music videos and other editorial and commercial work.

What lead you to become a director?

I guess it was the impulse to capture and document life as I see and feel and experience it, and to share that with others. I’m fascinated by culture and its diverse expressions and I strongly believe that the more we get to know others, their beliefs, traditions and ways of life, the more tolerant and peaceful the world can be. I started out my career as a photographer and journalist covering culture and travel for magazines in Bulgaria, where I’m from, and then Holland, where I was living for some time. Filmmaking was just the obvious next step to using word and image together. It’s also the medium that made most sense in that particular context: When I set out to rediscover the history and essence of New York’s underground dance culture, I realized you can’t really write about dancing… Not even a picture does it justice. I was dealing with movement, with spirit, with life at its most… alive, and I needed to capture all that, so I ventured into video. Thanks to my background in photography and strong visual culture, the transition was an easy one. That’s how I became a filmmaker.

Who are your filmmaking inspirations?

I get inspired by almost everything I see. I love Fellini, Almodóvar, French Cinema… While I was living in New York, I was getting my weekly dose of inspiration at Stranger Than Fiction – a night of documentary films and discussions at the IFC. I follow the New York Times Lens Blog and Op-Docs sections, as well as the work of VII and Magnum photographers. I find it fascinating to see the world through other people’s eyes, especially photo- and videojournalists who are always searching for new angles and interesting perspectives, for ways to capture fleeting moments into timeless images that transmit at once a sense of intimacy and the bigger picture. I also try to attend as many festivals and workshops as I can. Interacting with other filmmakers is always a priceless and stimulating experience.

What inspired you to make freedom2dance?

Dancing for me is the purest and most accessible form of freedom, of expression, of life and joy. Everyone who knows me knows how passionate I am about it. I was introduced to underground dance culture in Montreal, where I lived as an undergrad. The scene there is directly influenced by that of New York City so when I moved there to do my graduate studies in journalism, I knew I wanted to explore the roots of this subculture that I had fallen in love with and become a part of. It was only in the process of talking to people–many of whom are well into their 50s, 60s and beyond–that I found out about the Cabaret Laws that regulate dancing in the city and basically make it an illegal activity in most bars, even some clubs. I couldn’t believe it! The film I had originally set out to make took on a whole new dimension. It was always supposed to be about the freedom of dancing – because that’s what underground dance culture is about – but now it became a much more universal film, I think, that people from all walks of life can relate to.

How long did it take to make from start to finish?

About a year and half. Pre-production takes up the most time, of course. Plunging into a topic and fishing for your story, finding the voices that can tell it best, finding your own voice, too, along the way… I was looking for the history of New York’s clubbing scene, but I discovered so much more! It’s really a magical process, filmmaking. With documentaries you come in with an idea and the more you get into it, the more the film takes on a life of its own. It really takes you by the nose and leads you places. Very often in my case, the different stages of making the film were happening simultaneously. There are certain things I shot very early on, for example. Then I would edit between shoots, as well as continue researching different angles. I’m still keeping up with any news relating to New York’s Cabaret Laws and other dancing bans around the world. Japan actually recently overturned such a ban. A lawyer and bar owner in Brooklyn is trying to do the same for NYC at the moment. I also spent a long time in post-production dealing with archival, both in terms of rights clearances and stylizing the material. I actually made a big mistake submitting the film to top festivals and premiering it before it was really finished. I was too eager to get it out… If I could go back that’s the one thing I would do differently.

What was the hardest part about making this short film?

The hardest part for me has been finding a home for it now that it’s complete. Making a film is a stimulating, creative and magical process. Of course, it isn’t an easy one but it has its momentum. Finding distribution is a whole other ballgame and it requires a completely different set of skills… I really should find somebody to work with towards that end.

How involved are you with the filmmaking process? Do you have a team or are you very hands on?

Like I said before, I can do everything and I really quite enjoy being immersed in every stage of the process, but I particularly love the photography and editing aspects. I’m not sure I’d be good at taking the lead and directing other people, but yes, working together as a team in a collaborative environment, bouncing ideas off each other and co-creating.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the story for an animated film actually. It’s a sort of fairytale, without the fairies, of course. It’s a love story but it’s set against historical truths, and I want to make it equally accessible and interesting for children and adults alike so that’s one of the next challenges I’ve set for myself.

Do you apply to festivals regularly and if so, how do they benefit your career?

At one point I was sending this film to a few festivals every month. It does create some exposure and it’s great in terms of meeting people and getting the film seen by different audiences in different places, but it isn’t particularly sustainable financially… It can be a frustrating process, as well, especially when submitting a short film because the selection isn’t based solely on the intrinsic quality of the work, but also on programming themes and concepts. There are also so many festivals nowadays….

Do you have any tips for young filmmakers who don’t have a great deal of resources?

I was, and continue to be, one of them… As cliché as it may sound, I would say follow your passion and intuition. If you think or feel a story needs to be told, you owe it to yourself and the world to tell it. Don’t let anyone dissuade you or get you down. There are so many tools nowadays both in terms of affordable gear and financing or co-production opportunities. Finding an experienced producer to work with can really make a big difference. And finally, take your time.

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