Award Winner Interview- Toma Waszarow

The latest in our series of Award Winner interviews sees us catch up with Writer/Director Toma Waszarow who took home the 2016 Audience Award for his film Red Light. Waszarow talks us through his source of inspiration for the crowd-pleasing short, the successes and challenges of the filmmaking process and his response to the wide acclaim his film received at last year's festival.

b-102469Red Light has a mysterious, initially obtuse central character in the driver. What inspired the arc of his character?

The inspiration came from my personal observations of the people in my country. For the last 20 years, the Bulgarian population was reduced by more than a quarter. Young people don’t see any perspective in their own country. So, here is where the driver’s character comes from. He feels lonely and scared because his only daughter forgot about him. The anger leads him to a desperate small revolution – a simple protest against everything by violating the rules that people are supposed to observe.

Unfortunately, people are focused on their own survival and don’t care about the rules. And this is the sad irony of this character and the whole situation.

The film invokes an atmosphere which seems to be leading to a violent or at least emotionally rendering conclusion. Was it your intention to put a positive twist on the claustrophobic thriller?

Well, I don’t think I put a positive twist. Maybe it’s funny, but it’s definitely not positive. At the end of the film, life goes back to its regular condition. The revolution is easily suppressed and very soon everyone will forget what happened. The violent conclusion is a kind of dramaturgical formula, cliché that is commonly used by the mainstream entertainment films. I like to mock at it.

How did you go about choosing the rural locations?

I needed to find a location where we can easily see how abandoned some parts of the country are. A crossroad, where traffic lights are not needed because these days a few cars cross the street. There’s just a few people around, the local policeman, several dogs and a lonely fly.

The film depicts a group of emotionally and physically diverse characters all confined to a relatively small space. Can you tell us about the casting process?

All the characters are inspired by real people from everyday life. For the purposes of the story and the message, I wanted to show different groups of our society. So I put an old person, young boys, middle-aged men and women. I haven’t been shooting in a long time and I was a bit scared to work with non-professionals, which was most probably a mistake, but I don’t regret it. The actors I worked with really enjoyed the script and we had very funny situations on set. Actually, we had a lot of fun during the 5 days we worked together.

Red light_Toma Waszarow_still3Red Light explores the misunderstandings and conflicts which can arise when rules are rigorously followed.  Was this a central theme you always intended to convey?

I like very much the films with a good sense of humor. My best examples are “Camera buff” by Krzysztof Kieslowski, “The Loves of a Blonde” by Milos Forman, some films from the Czech wave, some Yugoslavian films. I really enjoy films where the authors convey messages to the audience through humor by pointing the saddest aspects of human life.

I’m not a big fan of the “East European misery porn” wave in cinema, but I like the way the Romanians do it these days. I enjoy simple stories, told with humour. And I find that following the rules in my country is something that everyone believes will make our life much better, but actually, everybody is against them. Isn’t it ridiculous and funny?

Is Red Light tonally similar to the films you would usually make?

I’m not sure. Some of my friends say there’s something in my films that can be called “style”. But some years ago I was pretty disappointed by myself and I stopped shooting for a long time. During this period I grew up and now I believe I found my tone with Red Light. I realized that I just love to tell sad stories about the grey life and at the same time to mock at it with love and sympathy. I don’t believe we, the human beings, have time to be sad. My new film is ready now and many of my friends who saw it say it’s a “trademark” already. I would say it’s a personal feeling that I plan to follow in my future projects.

How did your first hear about Encounters Film Festival?

I think I was just looking for some important festivals, qualifying for EFA and etc.

Obviously, you won the audience award. Did you expect the film to resonate with audiences as much as it clearly has?

I thought I made a very, very local Balkan style film that most probably nobody will understand besides the East Europeans. I was terribly wrong – the film was selected and awarded at many festivals around the world. But I’m absolutely sure that what happened at Encounters, won’t happen anywhere else. You guys have the best audience ever! I’ll never forget how people talked to me even on the streets of Bristol; everywhere someone was shaking my hand.

It was a turning point in my career. After the two screening of Red Light at Encounters, I just understood that I should stop editing someone else’s films and start filming regularly. I think I found my tone, my style and it makes very happy. I feel much more self-confident now and I promise I’ll do my best to meet Encounters audience soon.