Bulgaria as a Movie Setting? New Promotion Video Leaves Public Divided
A commercial video aimed at promoting Bulgaria as a tourist destination and officially unveiled on Sunday has left Bulgarians polarized.
The question many - experts and non-experts alike - have been asking: is the spot targeting tourists or cinema industry representatives from across the globe?
Tourism was hit hard by the Ukraine crisis, with the number of Russian and Ukrainian visitors to the Black Sea and elsewhere dwindling over the past year. This prompted the government to engage in a set of measures to make sure Bulgaria will enjoy the attention it deserves as a tourist destination in the next season.
Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas, Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Adrien Brody and Shohreh Aghadashloo - all these Hollywood stars appear on the video and spend two minutes explaining why "Bulgaria is the place".
The commercial has been produced by Sofia-based Nu Boyana Film Studios with no funding from the government - and even this cooperation has made some people raise eyebrows.
Rumen Draganov, who works for the Institute for Analyses and Assessment of Tourism, called it "a false start for the Bulgarian tourism industry."
In an interview with the Bulgarian National Radio he called it "unfit for the Bulgarian tourism industry" since it didn't meet a single requirement for drawing tourists to the country.
"In Russia, Rambo [a reference to one of Sylvester Stallone's most famous characters] is considered a fighter against the Russians, siding with the Taliban, and in France they don't like Hollywood or US movies at all, since they promote European cinema," Draganov warned. Russian tourists in particular are considered essential to the industry's development, and businesses have been concerned in the last year over a deflux partly triggered by the crisis in Ukraine.
He also said the public-private partnership signed between the government and Nu Boyana Film constituted illicit state aid granted to a private entity.
Other representatives of the tourism industry, such as Dimitar Popov, member of the board at the Association of Bulgarian tour operators, told Bulgaria on Air TV early on Tuesday that in his opinion the video suggests "we won't have any other kind of national advertisement."
Sofia University PR and advertisement lecturer Prof Hristo Kaftandzhiev for his part hailed the spot, arguing it would boost the country's image which abroad which in his words "is not really brilliant."
Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova, who during the presentation on Sunday described it as an excellent example of "public-private partnership", later downplayed remarks hurled at the video.
"The most valuable thing with this video is that stars like these invite people to visit Bulgaria and say it is a must-see country. The video shows their attitude to us," she is heard telling Focus News Agency in an interview aired by the agency's radio station.
Critics of the video, however, also remember her saying on Sunday that incentives are jointly being prepared by the ministries of economy and tourism for the cinema industry. Her words prompted comments that Sofia was seeking to advertise Nu Boyana Film Studios, which produced the commercial, rather than Bulgaria itself.
Like it or not, the video goes in line with some of the concepts that have dominated mainstream culture for decades: the world is a setting and every setting is worth seeing, especially if famous people say so.
On the other hand, the Bulgarian capital Sofia was declared late last year a UNESCO City of Film by the United Nations' cultural body, and this year, 2015, is when Bulgaria marks a centenary since the first screening of the first Bulgarian movie, "The Bulgarian is Gallant", in January of 1915.
It is therefore quite appropriate to have a cinema-themed video this year. Whether it really works we will see at this time of 2016. All that said, there is not much in the spot about things such as the Black Sea, the mountains, or the food tourists have traditionally liked and tend to remember after their visits here.
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