Filming of Bulgarian Black Comedy in Bluff City

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The upcoming feature film set in Memphis will draw attention to one of the city’s most neglected populations – the Bulgarian community – while demonstrating the potential of the Mid-South as a base for filmmaking with an international flair. .

Designed and directed by Bulgarian Tzvetana Denkova – known as “Sissy” since her family emigrated to the United States in 1997 when she was 10 years old – “The Scent of Linden” begins filming here on 6 October.

Described by Denkova as “an ensemble noir comedy”, the film will be one of the most unique projects ever undertaken here. Denkova says: “The film would be the first Bulgarian feature film ever produced entirely in the United States”

“The Scent of Linden” is set in Memphis, but most of the dialogue will be in Bulgarian and will be spoken by a cast made up mostly of professional actors here with work visas from their home countries, where some of them are stars. in cinema and television.

Tzvetana, Bulgarian-born filmmaker in Memphis "Sissy" Denkova, who will shoot in Memphis in October for her cast of Bulgarian actors, "The smell of lime," about an immigrant navigating between his new American experiences and the traditional Bulgarian community.

“Yes, there are Bulgarian immigrants who are actors here,” Denkova said, “but I really wanted these 30-year-old TV comedy stars from the Bulgarian conservatory.”

Denkova said her Bulgarian-American collaboration – the screenwriter, working from the Denkova premise, is Los Angeles-based Jordan Trippeer – examines “the question of the American dream and asks, ‘Is it still real?’ It is about our Bulgarian community but also about our perspective on American life. “

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With a budget of around half a million dollars funded in part by the Film Collaborative, a new Los Angeles nonprofit that supports independent filmmaking, “Linden” will be shot over 18 days, entirely outdoors in the Memphis area.

Taking advantage of Tennessee’s financial incentives for filmmakers, the project will employ around 65 people, including nine Bulgarians – eight actors and a screenplay supervisor, to help with translation – who will be in Memphis on temporary “P-3” work visas. . “P-3” is the designation for “artists or animators” who perform “as part of a culturally unique program,” according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services Agency.

The visa issue has been “the biggest test in all of the development and pre-production of this project, over several years,” said Denkova, 35, who will make her debut as a feature film director.

“We’ve all heard the expression ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” said Linn Sitler, Memphis film commissioner. “Well, it took the United States government and state government and local government and the Memphis and Shelby County Film and Television Commission to get it done.”

Tzvetana, Bulgarian-born filmmaker in Memphis "Sissy" Denkova, who will shoot in Memphis in October for her cast of Bulgarian actors, "The smell of lime," about an immigrant navigating between his new American experiences and the traditional Bulgarian community.

“My father is the embodiment of the American dream”

Bén bloc and the end of the Communist Party’s monopoly on Bulgarian political power.

A couple of Bartlett, Skip and Linda Davis, who had met Tzvetana’s father, Roumen Denkov, while they were on vacation acted as “guarantors” for the family’s move to the United States and gave to Roumen a place to stay until he can settle down and bring in his wife, Snejina Denkova, and his son and daughter, Vasco and Tzvetana.

According to Tzvetana, the Denkovs arrived here with “two bags of clothes” and no English. However, coming to Memphis from Eastern Europe “was a bit of a fluke”. In Bulgaria, Denkova’s father was a trombonist who performed at tourist resorts in the family’s hometown, Varna, on the Black Sea. “He used to listen to jazz and blues in a time of society when it was illegal, and then he ended up in a city of music.”

In summary, “My father is the epitome of the American dream,” Denkova said. In Bulgaria, the family “was at the bottom of the economic ladder,” she said. But in Memphis, Roumen Denkov mastered the art of doing business in the United States, as well as the English language. He is now president and co-founder of RDX, a trucking company located in the old Memphis mall on – rightfully – American Way.

In Memphis, the Bulgarian community is united and united, said Denkova. “America is a huge place, and it’s very isolating. People here don’t live among others. You don’t walk out of your apartment and walk down a boulevard full of people like you do in a city. European, sense of community and friendship as we knew it at home.

“I mainly grew up among older generation Bulgarian immigrants. If you needed any tiling or plumbing work in your bathroom, the first call you make is to call a Bulgarian friend.

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Graduating in 2005 from Bartlett High School, Denkova earned a degree in political science from the University of Memphis, then moved to New York City, where she immersed herself in theater – acting, directing, and “just racking up the life experience “. She then moved to Los Angeles, taking on various jobs in the film industry.

When the COVID-19 shutdown hit, she decided to go home (her parents now live in Lakeland). “I figured if I stayed in Los Angeles it would be a long time before I could make a movie in the old-fashioned indie of Memphis,” she said.

Back in Memphis, she also married Germantown Municipal School District conductor and music teacher Anthony Smith. (This means that she can now claim a very simple Americanized name as her own, indeed: “Sissy Smith”).

Tzvetana, Bulgarian-born filmmaker in Memphis "Sissy" Denkova, who will shoot in Memphis in October for her cast of Bulgarian actors, "The smell of lime," about an immigrant navigating between his new American experiences and the traditional Bulgarian community.

‘The Scent of Linden’: Bulgarian talent arrives in Memphis

Denkova’s film represents a reversal of the typical cinematic relationship between Bulgaria and the United States. Many Hollywood-style blockbusters have been shot in Bulgaria, to take advantage of the country’s low costs. Nu Boyana Film Studios, a 75-acre complex where “The Black Dahlia”, “Olympus Has Fallen”, “Rambo: Last Blood” and other major films were filmed, are located in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.

But in the case of “The Scent of Linden”, Denkova brings Bulgarian talent to America, including actors the director calls “some of my childhood comedy idols”. Names like Ivan Barnev, Albena Koleva, and Toncho Tokmakchiev might not mean much in the United States, but “they’re not just professional actors with decades of careers, they’re stars. Toncho does skits. comedies on television since I was a child. “

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Denkova said that “The Scent of Linden” is the story of Stefan (Barnev), a newcomer to Memphis who is “fresh off, as they say”. (The title of the film refers to the fragrant lime trees that line the boulevards of many Bulgarian towns and that trigger Proustian desire in Stefan’s memory.)

“Through his eyes, we see what the American way of life is like for a newly arrived immigrant,” Denkova said. “He’s sort of forging his independence, but he finds himself in a community that looks like ‘little Bulgaria’, where the collective habits of the Old World collide with the ideas of trust and individualism of the New. World.”

In the case of Memphis, “Little Bulgaria” means little, indeed. Although perhaps 250,000 Bulgarians reside in the United States, according to the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, probably less than 100 live in Memphis, according to Denkova.

How does she know? “We all know them! She explained.


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