The first time I heard about the man called Manchester United was on the news. I reacted like many others - with a smile: just another nutcase in my amazing country.
Later on, when I started searching for a good plot for my first documentary, this story was always emerging in my mind as one of the most interesting. I decided to make a journey to Svishtov - a small Bulgarian town on the bank of the river Danube, where this guy lived. What impressed me most when I first met him was the fact that he never talked about football. No results, no penalties, no transfers. His only theme was the civil society in Bulgaria, The Constitution of the country, The Declaration of Human Rights. The man had spent ten years of his life battling with the legal system for the right to be named after his favourite football club. Twelve court cases - from the Regional Court to the Supreme Court, and backwards. He even changed his religion - being a Catholic, he became an Orthodox, baptized with a new Christian name: Manchester United, hoping this would be the important circumstance that would convince the judges.
I remember asking myself: What's beneath the sensational layer? What's hidden behind the surface? Was it the fact that he tries to escape from confronting with his real identity? A single 46-year old construction builder, jobless most of the time, living alone with his mother and his cat Beckham. (And it was a she-cat.)
I took a walk in his hometown. Svishtov was one of those small cities in the faraway countryside with a boring, standstill life. Only the huge river was flowing slowly nearby. "What a Chekhov atmosphere", I thought. And exactly as in the "Three sisters" where they all keep on saying: "When we go to Moscow, everything will be fine!", but take away the dream for Moscow, there'll be nothing left, I found this parallel with Manchester United from Svishtov - take away the name and there's only emptiness, nothing to hold on to. Except a few good friends around - the real heart of the town, the "salt of the earth". So funny, so sad, so real, so memorable. All my conversations with them started with the "Manchester United" case and ended up with thoughts about dreams, about death, about loneliness, about lack of money and lack of job, about what was "back then in the Communist times" and what is "now", how they had dreamt of democracy and Western lifestyle, but they were not prepared for the changes. "All my mates are Steinbeck's people", one of the characters told me. "He might have been in Svishtov and wrote his books".
So, I decided to go back there with my small crew and start very tenderly observing them with the camera, as I saw a good opportunity to create a portrait of nowadays Bulgaria with its bewildered and confused people, so disappointed by the life in the country, that they escape to their own substitute reality.
Meanwhile, a great event burst out in the sports world: the Bulgarian top-striker Dimitar Berbatov became the biggest transfer in the history of Manchester United Football Club. That fact gave my future film a different dimension. A possible meeting between the fan and his idol, the builder and the star, the dreamer in "The Theatre of Dreams" - that would be a touching culmination of the story. The idea actually came out of the protagonist's friends who put him up to write a letter to Berbatov's personal agent with a request for a meeting. After the agent's positive answer, this opportunity became more than real and the dream-come-true journey to Old Trafford Stadium was made.
Now, after two years of shooting and 90 hours of footage, our 57-minute-long film is accomplished. In the editing room it somehow took the shape and the structure of a fiction, but this fact didn't bother me at all. I just followed my instincts. Finally, it ended up as a creative documentary. Whatever it is, I know it's real. And I know I'll be grateful forever to each of my colleagues and friends who invested a big deal of trust, working in this low-budget independent production. Hope this film is just the beginning of our journey together.
7 April 2011