Bulgaria's Oscar Nominee Criticized for Director's Role on Selection Committee

Still from 'Viktoria' -- Balkans filmmakers shocked it was not chosen as Bulgarian Oscar nomination.

Critics say choice of 'Bulgarian Rhapsody' by veteran filmmaker Ivan Nichev does not reflect contemporary national cinematography

Bulgaria's nominee for the 2015 best foreign-language Oscar, Bulgarian Rhapsody by veteran filmmaker Ivan Nichev, has come under fire for the director's role on the selection committee.

Although Nichev played no role in the Bulgarian National Film Council's secret ballot Friday, he is a member of the body, which under National Film Center rules is tasked with selecting the country's submission for the Oscars. Nichev was not immediately available for comment.

The decision to send the film, a World War II drama co-produced with Israel that has barely been seen outside Bulgaria, where it opened a local film festival in June, has sent shock waves through the filmmaking community in the region.

Two films that have seen wide exposure at international film festivals had widely been seen as the favorites for an Oscar submission. They are Maya Vitkova's Viktoria, about a mother's relationship with her daughter who was born without an umbilical cord and which was in official selection at Sundance this year, and Milko Lazarov's Alienation, which won a best debut prize at Venice Days last year.

A number of Bulgarian directors have protested the selection, launching an online petition and appealing for international signatures to support it. The petition is listed under the rubric: "Justice for Bulgarian Cinema - ARE WE STILL IN THE 80s?"

Nichev, who is 74, has 17 films to his credit. Bulgarian Rhapsody is the third in a trio of films focusing on the war and Bulgaria's role in deporting Jews to Nazi death camps.

Albanian director Iris Elezi, whose debut feature Bota played in Karlovy Vary's East of the West competition in July, is among international filmmakers who have signed the petition, commenting that Viktoria "has been rightfully hailed as the most important Bulgarian film of 2014 as it has been praised at several international festivals. Full support for new visions!"

Irina Kanousheva, head of Bulgaria's National Film Center, told The Hollywood Reporter that Nichev "did not take part in the selection and voting procedure for the Bulgarian Oscar nomination." She added: "It was a vote by secret written ballot."