Singing About the Problems of the World, with Ilina Perianova

by cultshorts 8 min read 10/01/2021

Director and writer Ilina Perianova talks about her love of musicals, her obsession with food and the challenges filmmakers from South-East Europe face when they go against the current!

CULT CRITTER: When you were putting together the story and concept of Eat Me! did you know right away that it was going to be a musical?

ILINA PERIANOVA: Food and our relationship to it is a sort of a family obsession and after an invitation by the H.Boell foundation in Berlin I decided to make a film about it. I didn’t want it to be a documentary because there are a lot of documentaries on the subject, so I thought a nice way to talk about our complex relationship to food and the food industry would be in an entertaining way… And that’s how I came up with a musical. Besides, I am a fan of musicals! I grew up with films like Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Meaning of Life (Monty Python), and others. So it was a natural thing. It all came together very quickly and I am grateful to the many people who were with me and helped make it happen, in particular, my sister, who was the set designer and producer- Yagama, the DOP, and producer- Alexander Krumov and the composer Emelina Gorcheva.

CULT CRITTER: What is your all-time favorite musical?

ILINA PERIANOVA: Well, Cabaret – definitely, Hair, Cats (the theater version) and Jesus Christ Superstar, which is the ultimate kitsch but the music is great! And The Little Shop of Horrors which has something to do with Eat Me! Even though I think I discovered it after we shot Eat me! But yeah, the Shop of Horrors is a great film, I love it!

CULT CRITTER: You mentioned being very interested in food and clearly this inspired the whole film? But what did you really want to talk about through this?

ILINA PERIANOVA: Well, people say “you are what you eat”, and I always believed in that…

But I’ve always had a complicated relationship with food, because, I think there is a lot of pressure, especially on women to be slim and beautiful. And I can definitely relate to this pressure because one of the reasons I didn’t promote myself much as an actress was because I wasn’t comfortable with my body, and I just thought that I am too fat basically. So I love eating but there is that constant fight with kilograms, the pressure that you have to look a certain way. And I don’t eat meat, so that’s another aspect for me!

CULT CRITTER: I loved the scene in Eat Me! when the main protagonist ends up in the dumpster and she just starts eating and finally enjoying herself. It almost felt like a reference to the insane quantities of food that are being thrown away in the developed world, while, according to some statistics I recently read, an astonishing 9 percent of the world’s population goes to bed on an empty stomach every night! What are your thoughts on the matter?

ILINA PERIANOVA: First of all yes, this scene is definitely a reference to that fact. I personally never throw away food. There was a time in my childhood when food was rationed and we had to queue from 4 am to get our daily bread or milk. This image still haunts me. Food should be respected or else we just feed into a system of global consumerism- use, abuse, throw away, both in relation to what we put in our mouths, but also to the people in our lives. It would be good if we could grow our own food but the answer is more comprehensive. I am inspired by people like Jane Goodall and David Attenborough who try to create a different focus for humanity. What happened this year with the pandemic, really shows us we are not in harmony, and not at peace with the Earth.

CULT CRITTER: It seems like not even the global pandemic is able to wake people up! I mean, it has been one year now since Covid-19 entered our reality and people are still obsessed with the same things as before!

ILINA PERIANOVA: Well, scientists talk about it all the time! They keep emphasizing that this is happening because we have been invading too much the natural habitat of wild animals.

CULT CRITTER: But people are still ignorant. Politicians are extremely ignorant!

ILINA PERIANOVA: Yeah, exactly, because change is very hard!

CULT CRITTER: From the perspective of cinema, it is in the tradition of the cinematography of South-Eastern Europe to reflect on many problems in our society through the well established genre of social realism. But you chose a very different way to talk about a problem you feel is important, even though this proves to be a harder way in regard to the common tastes of national film commissions.

ILINA PERIANOVA: The thing is I don’t mind social dramas and I watch a lot of those. But I really do mind the fact that the film commission here does not support a variety of genres – regardless of shorts or features.

If you are not allowed to experiment with your shorts, then what are we even talking about!? Directors don’t have a choice… You have to make your first feature a drama, as well as your shorts, and all in the style of social realism. I actually have an idea for a feature musical but I had to put it on the shelf for now, because I know it’s just not possible! It’s a period musical piece with surrealist elements. So as a first feature it’s out of the question!

CULT CRITTER: It’s a tough struggle – staying true to yourself as an author, even when it means to take the hardest way possible.

ILINA PERIANOVA: I just got rejected again by the Bulgarian Film Center and it was for my latest short film project about the emotional trauma after an abortion and a separation. It’s really about the duality of abortion, which is rarely addressed. Yes, on one hand, there is the important fact that women fought for many years for the right to abort and that the decision of what to do with our bodies is ours alone (!), but abortion in itself could be a traumatic experience for some, even when it is the right thing to do. And I don’t see many films talking about what happens after this decision is taken… Many people told me that my film should be about my character struggling with the dilemma of whether she should terminate her pregnancy or not, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

The moment you show a different perspective, a bit out of the classical ABC’s of dramaturgical structure, in an unexpected manner – then it becomes a challenge. I have a musical element in this project, because for me, as an author, the challenge is to explore these heavy emotions in the frame of something that is very colorful. To play with the contrast! And then one of the comments of the jury members at the national film center was “Well I kind of agree with this, but I don’t like musicals!”! You don’t like musicals? What kind of reason for rejection is that

CULT CRITTER: But that’s not even a professional comment, it’s just a personal opinion.

ILINA PERIANOVA: And I was greatly disappointed because this specific project was extremely well developed and is very topical in view of what is happening in the world now. Yet the problem doesn’t only lie in the film commissions in Bulgaria, it’s also in the festival circuit because for years they have been showing and pushing only certain types of films from our region. I truly think that there are some real gems in this specific genre that were created here. But then, I also remember what a producer told me about two-three years ago after one of the first screenings of Eat me! He said: that’s great, but do a social realism drama next time if you want to receive national funding….

CULT CRITTER: It seems like the film festival circuit expects certain cinematic product from certain regions, especially from smaller, less established cinematographies. In that regard, what are the steps towards a change?

ILINA PERIANOVA: Well I think it has to start at the national film funds. They need more independent juries, as well as foreign jurors, people who are outside the system. Because in our small setting we all know each other. Another thing is that we need to address the problem.

I see too many filmmakers who do only what is expected of them. That’s understandable because you can actually be excluded from the community if you are trying to be different. But there’s the irony of it! We talk about author films here, and they need a special individual touch. Otherwise, we end up making the same kind of films!

CULT CRITTER: I love your spirit and energy and absolutely agree that filmmakers should address openly their challenges. What is next for you? Where are you at the moment professionally?

ILINA PERIANOVA: At the moment I am finalizing a documentary that I started in 2012 and I am so excited about it because it was such a long journey. But I am very driven, I don’t give up easily. This film is about municipal and private dog rescue organizations in Bulgaria that try to clean up the mess created by people who just abandon their pets on the streets. Also, it’s about cruelty to animals and what it says about our society. And the short film about abortion “Between me and you” will also be made this year by me and my amazing team. We won’t give up no matter what!

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