The Bulgarian film-maker talks about her ‘semi-autobiographical’ directorial debut, nine years in the making.

Viktoria may be Bulgarian born Maya Vitkova’s directorial feature debut, but she is no novice, having spent years gaining experience as a casting director, assistant director and most recently executive producer on the 2009 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight selection Eastern Plays.

Describing her directorial debut as “semi autobiographical”, Viktoria is set in the last decade of Communism in Bulgaria and centers around a young girl, born with no umbilical cord, who is chosen as the “Socialist Baby of the Decade”, leading to resentment from her mother (played by Irmena Chichikova) who dreamt of escaping the regime. “Viktoria is a story about choice and the choice is, you cannot start living until you’ve learned to love,” explains the writer/director, who took nine years to make the film, from script to completion.

One of the biggest challenges came when the mother of the newborn baby she had cast to play Viktoria pulled out a week before shooting, resulting in, as Vitkova describes it, “an emergency baby-search.”

Luckily, she found a replacement when the daughter of a family friend happened to turn up to a casting session with her tiny baby. “I went to the sleeping baby and asked her, quietly: “Are you Viktoria?” Believe it or not, she smiled in her sleep,” explains the director, who cites Cassavettes and Bergman among the directors who have inspired her work.

Despite her experience as a producer, raising funds for her own feature was a challenge. “The film funds and institutions were expecting an experienced director in order to minimize the risk with this difficult film,” says Vitkova who nevertheless managed to secure funding from the Bulgraian National Film Centre, Vienna Film Fund and the MEDIA programme.

While her years as an assistant director may have been “thankless”, Vitkova also describes them as “the best training”.

“You are in position to revise the shooting schedule, you have a very clear idea of time passing while on set, and you have a discipline and control,” says the director, who has already written the first draft of her next feature. “It’s a personal story that moves me, as Viktoria does, that I feel the urge to share.”