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What does it take for an American independent film to find its European audience? Jim Jermanok’s brilliant “Em” has its European screen premiere six years after being finished

Jim Jermanok has made a film with an important message and excellent cinematography. Em has finally found its audience in European cinemas – it premiered at the Sofia Independent Film Festival this week, six years after being finished. Em tells the touching story of how a mental illness can influence the dynamics of a relationship, how it can be impossible to ignore those undercurrents in love that, in the course of everyday life, we may be foolishly be tempted to overlook... Em introduces us to the world of living with mental illness – a topic so problematic that we – individually and societally, may shy away from it. Em gives us important advice on how to build and nourish a relationship, how to enrich our lives and make our dreams come true. “The film is important because it gives us a raw and authentic reality of mental illness. It is also an accurate portrayal of romance and shows how sometimes relationships fail. It is about surviving when relationships fail. The only thing worse than falling out of love, is not trying to be in love”, said Jim Jermanok in an interview on bTV Radio (together with Jazz FM, part of bTV Radio Group).

Em provides an important message for us, presented in cinematographic excellence. Why is it then so difficult for the film to cross the ocean – and warm the hearts and enjoy the senses of the European audience?

Its problems are rooted in its strength – the cast. Nathan Wetherington and Stef Willen are so brilliant in their lead roles, yet they are not what distributors would perceive as “stars”, attracting the worldwide audience. Stef Willen was selected among 1400 candidates, she was the first and absolute choice of the production team. “When we started the film, there was a window for showing independent American films without big names in the cast. By the time we finished the film, unfortunately, that window had closed”, Jim Jermanok told the audience at the G8 Cultural Centre in Sofia on 26 October 2014, when Em had its first screening in Europe.

And yet another “name” could help the film find its audience in Europe – the big festivals. Although Em won awards at the Seattle, Brooklyn and Santa Fe film festivals, also winning the Criterion Collection Inspiration Award, it narrowly missed getting into Cannes and the Locarno festivals. However, with new media – Amazon and iTunes, there is more opportunity to give the film an European audience.

And yet, Jim Jermanok is not discouraged to make films about subjects that he considers significant in the right way. He has some strong words about that: “I like making movies that affect people emotionally. I will continue to make movies that attempt to be distinctive and important.”

While in Bulgaria as a special guest at the Sofia Independent Film Festival, Jim Jermanok also passed his knowledge to young Bulgarian filmmakers at the So Academy programme. The topic of his presentation was focused on key ways of producing anf financing film, but what he said on bTV Radio was truly his mission is to inspire.

  • You can listen to Svetoslav Nikolov’s interview with Jim Jermanok using the Audio button above.

The Sofia Independent Film Festival is now in its fifth year. It was founded by Bulgarian actress who works in the United States, Jana Karaivanova, the Artistic Director. For ten years, she has also been presenting the Bulgarian Film Festival in New York. The other two So Academy lecturers were director Maya Vitkova whose Viktoria debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and Vladimir Todorov who works as concept and storyboard artist in Hollywood in productions such as Beowulf and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

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