Slav Velkov on Life as a Student Filmmaker and His Upcoming Work ‘A New World’

The ‘Easy’ director and Lincoln Center sophomore details his thought-provoking films, creating art during the pandemic, and goals for the future

portrait+of+Slav+Velkov

COURTESY OF SLAV VELKOV

Velkov’s upcoming work ‘A New World’ helps him question ideas of meaning in a consumerist, nature-deprived society.

By AIDAN LANE

Slav Velkov, Fordham College at Lincoln Center ’23, premiered his short film “Easy last fall to a packed McKeon Hall movie lounge. Some of us knew him, others didn’t, but we were excited just the same. Velkov is well-connected in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he worked with famous actress Koyna Ruseva and directed a music video for the up-and-coming rap group Newave. As the lights went out, the film opened with a stressed-out college student portrayed by Velkov who struggles to stay awake during a late-night study session. For that alone, the short, written, directed and edited by 21-year-old Velkov, was instantly relatable to all of the college students in the movie lounge. 

Suddenly, the drained student hears his doorbell ring and looks outside to find an unmarked package. Inside the package is a Staples “Easy” button which the student soon realizes will grant any desire. What follows is a dark look at the excesses of fame and wealth. 

“Easy” was Velkov’s second film and received several honorable mentions and nominations at film festivals, including finalist at The Cutting Room International Short Film Festival and semi-finalist at the Student Los Angeles Film Awards.

“It was really hard, really stressful, but in the end, I learned the basics by just going out there and making films.”

Getting to Know Velkov

Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, Velkov started making films at 15 when he began work on his first short, “M,” which featured Ruseva. He explained how thankful he was for her support of young filmmakers in Bulgaria. 

“It’s far from my best work,” Velkov said. “But it’s my first serious work and I really appreciate it because it taught me the process of making a film. It was really hard, really stressful, but in the end, I learned the basics by just going out there and making films.” The story follows a struggling college student who is addicted to his smartphone, personified as “M.” Throughout the short he is taunted and manipulated by “M.”

While “Easy” and “M” are more social commentaries than inherently political works, Velkov’s latest short, “Change Bulgaria,” directly comments on politics. Released in July, the short documentary about anti-corruption protests in Bulgaria went viral in Bulgaria, earning him an appearance on the Bulgarian TV news network Dnevnik.

Creating During the Pandemic

For the filming of “Change Bulgaria,” Velkov had to deal with the sudden reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. When Fordham sent students home last March, he feared he would be unable to film for what he said felt like years. Thankfully, Bulgaria was able to ease restrictions early because it effectively controlled the spread of the virus. “I was really lucky because over the summer and in the fall I got to do a few commercials and this documentary,” he said.

He didn’t let the pandemic stop him from creating. He was able to pursue different opportunities and jobs. He’s realized that his success is “not a product only of my efforts but of a collective effort of parents, colleagues, friends and strangers.” Without them, “I’d never be able to do what I do,” he said.

Support From the Fordham Community

Velkov is grateful for the sense of community he’s found on campus and he thinks that small class sizes and the availability of Lincoln Center’s film and production spaces have allowed him to grow as a student and artist. He praised Fordham’s curriculum and its location, which have both allowed him to pursue his work. 

He spoke about Fordham’s philosophical ethics requirement and drew a parallel between the morals offered in his films and the course’s lessons on Aristotelian ethics, which has “less of a strict formula and is able to deal with ambiguity.” Velkov said politics is an exercise in finding the “best way to govern yourself and to govern other people.” While he is still in “the process of finding those values,” he stressed the importance of finding ways to govern one’s actions in a virtuous manner. 

Finding Answers

He found an answer in part from his upbringing in Bulgaria. Although he was raised in the capital of Sofia, Velkov frequented his grandfather’s village. There he found “not a culture of consumerism but a culture of self-reliance.” He thinks a connection to nature is incredibly important and its absence in urban areas is detrimental to human happiness. In Sofia, the trappings of money and drugs are hard to avoid. “You’re connected but at the same time the city kind of consumes you at a very young age,” Velkov said. His work as a filmmaker, and less prominently but no less impressively as an artist, allows him to engage with these profound issues.

While Velkov considers himself a filmmaker first and foremost, he has drawn and painted for as long as he can remember. One of his paintings is titled “The Body is Limited by the Imagination of the Mind and the Mind is Limited by the Physicality of the Body.” Through such works, he has reflected on human nature and the difficulties of modern society.

Future Work From the Filmmaker

Velkov is most excited about his next work, “A New World,” filmed in January in Sofia. With an air of anxious excitement, he said it’s his biggest project yet in terms of budget, production company and camera crew. “I’m editing the film and it’ll be finished at the end of May, then we’ll start sending it to festivals,” he said. 

Velkov said budgetary restraints are ever-present, but thankfully he and his crew had the funds to make the film as they saw fit. It’s a surrealist work in the vein of pre-war German Expressionism about a man who disposes of his own desires. 

Velkov offered a brief synopsis: “A man has lived all his life in a single white room. A character named ‘The Figure’ controls the man. Every day this man cycles on a stationary bicycle and the more he cycles the more Instagram likes he gets. He eats donuts and drinks Coca-Cola and the more he eats, the more likes he gets. One day he discovers a book and sees there’s a world outside of the room.” The ensuing conflict pursues questions of meaning in a consumerist, nature-deprived society. 

The themes found in his paintings and short films are a product of Velkov’s overall goal. He encourages people to think critically about the cultural, social and political institutions that govern their lives. “If my work reaches everybody, no matter their social class, I will consider it successful.” With the release of “A New World,” he hopes to take a step deeper into his vocation to “liberate the human mind from the chains of ignorance.”