LUBEN AND ELENA
| 75 min
Selections and Awards
Luben and Elena is a modern-day love story about renowned artists Luben Boykov and Elena Popova, who escape repressive communist Bulgaria and find refuge on the island of Newfoundland. Embracing the love of art and the art of love, they remind us that the greatest risk of all is to take either for granted.
About the film
Luben and Elena is a visually stunning portrait of immigrants and renowned artists Luben Boykov and Elena Popova, who fearlessly embrace the unknown in their lives and their work, opening up a space to dream and transform.
Luben and Elena is a modern-day love story about renowned artists Luben Boykov and Elena Popova, who escape repressive communist Bulgaria in the early 1990s. They find refuge on the island of Newfoundland and, over time, their work comes to intimately interpret the culture of the place, underscoring in a very tangible way what the immigrant can offer.
In this visually stunning film, we are immersed in Luben and Elena’s creative process and witness the rigorous work behind their artistic practice—as well as their commitment to holding an honest mirror to each other. As they traverse social systems and borders, Luben and Elena actively challenge the current climate of nationalism. We see them encompass all the places they call home, showing there is no universal definition of any of these identities. The challenge is not to inhabit one or the other, but to appreciate the freedom to express all of them at the same time. Embracing the love of art and the art of love, the protagonists remind us that the greatest risk of all is to take either for granted.
Luben and Elena is a modern-day love story about renowned artists Luben Boykov and Elena Popova, who escape repressive communist Bulgaria in the early 1990s. They find refuge on the island of Newfoundland and, over time, their work comes to intimately interpret the culture of the place, underscoring in a very tangible way what the immigrant can offer. Twenty-five years later, they embrace transformation in Sicily.
In this visually stunning film, we are immersed in Luben and Elena’s creative process and witness the rigorous work behind their artistic practice—as well as their commitment to holding an honest mirror to each other. Luben’s inspiration for his sculptures changes over the course of his career, as he shifts his focus from durability to the organic, abandoning the traditional desire to transcend mortality and embracing a sense of fragility instead. Elena’s paintings, however, are emotionally rich and explosive, and she uses intuition and spontaneity as vehicles to open up a space for introspection and new ideas.
As a couple, they are explorers of the temporal, grappling with and celebrating the contradictions of our existence.
As they traverse social systems and borders, Luben and Elena actively challenge the current climate of nationalism. We see them encompass all the places they call home, showing there is no universal definition of any of these identities. The challenge is not to inhabit one or the other, but to appreciate the freedom to express all of them at the same time.
Luben and Elena is a timely story that brings deep insight into what it means to live meaningfully in this complex world. Embracing the love of art and the art of love, the protagonists remind us that the greatest risk of all is to take either for granted.
More than 20 years ago, in the midst of my travels in North America as a cinematographer, I attended an art show in St. John’s by chance. Entering the Christina Parker gallery, I forgot about the wind and the cold outside. My focus switched to the vibrating, intense works that somehow managed to say so much about my Bulgarian roots and at the same time this new world I was discovering, Newfoundland. The pieces were full of colour, emotion and kinetic energy. It was the kind of art you expect to see in New York or Paris, but to my surprise, it was being shown here at the easternmost edge of Canada. The artist was Elena Popova, a young Bulgarian refugee who was part of an influx of Bulgarians to Newfoundland in1990. This is how I met Elena and her husband, sculptor Luben Boykov. It was a meeting that changed my life, because it became a big part of my decision to make St. John’s my new home.
I decided to make this documentary because I knew Luben and Elena had an important story to tell. They are a couple who are always moving forward, challenging themselves in their work and their relationship. They don’t rest in complacency; in fact, they see it as a dangerous place to stay too long. Interestingly, as we were making this film, nationalist sentiment began to grow more intensely around the globe. I saw Luben and Elena’s philosophy of never being complacent take on a deeper meaning. Like me, they grew up under totalitarian rule and are particularly sensitive to how quickly freedom can be taken away. They see clearly how Western democracies underestimate this danger because they’ve never known what it’s like to be denied your voice. It became an important part of Luben and Elena’s story. I’m so deeply thankful to the National Film Board and my wonderful producer, Annette Clarke, who gave me the support and time to truly explore these themes.
The artist’s role, as Luben sees it, is to evoke our innate feelings of belonging. This is something that’s experienced organically through the work without viewers realizing it. Instead, they feel the warmth of the connection. This is what the artist strives for. I could not agree more with this desire. My intent in making this film was to create a layered cinematic documentary that speaks to audiences in a similar way, allowing them to experience the deep internal belonging of love and art as expressed through Luben and Elena’s story. The documentary incorporates strong visuals and intense reflections between Luben and Elena, showing how and why they became who they are today as artists and individuals. I want the audience to leave with the feeling that they’ve already known them for years. We witness them at work, seeing their rigorous work ethic and the struggles that come up within themselves and between each other when trying to make meaningful work.
In their art they’ve been exploring concepts of transformation, transience, frailty, movement through time and space, life and death—everything they’ve been through. It is the story of their lives. They don’t sit and wait for the universe to serve them something. They are active in making things better for themselves and the world. I deeply admire this, and I know audiences will get so much from them. I love them dearly and I’m profoundly grateful that they trusted me to tell their story.
Trailer - 90 seconds
Trailer - 30 seconds
Photo : NFB
Ellie Yonova is a Canadian director and cinematographer. She was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, and relocated to Canada in 1999. Her 35-year-long career has taken her across four continents to work on features, TV series, documentaries and low-budget independent films.
Ellie is also an avid photographer whose abstract experiments have yielded a unique style that plays with light, glass and water. Her works have received several awards and are held in private, corporate and public collections in Canada, the US and Europe.
Luben and Elena, her first feature-length documentary with the National Film Board of Canada, is set to be released in 2019.
Photo : NFB
An accomplished producer committed to collaborating with artists to craft transformative stories, Annette’s select producer credits include The Boxing Girls of Kabul (2011, IDFA and CSA for best documentary short), Hard Light (2012, FIFA Jury Award), Danny (2014, Hot Docs Big Ideas series), 54 Hours (2014, Yorkton Founder’s Award), Gun Runners (2015, Hot Docs), Theater of Life (2016, Berlin), Hand. Line. Cod. (2016, TIFF), Love, Scott (2018, Hot Docs, BFI Flare, Inside Out, One World) and Assholes, a theory (CPHDOX). In addition to Conviction, her current productions reflect on the human condition through the eyes of a twelve year old Yazidi boy arriving in Canada, and inside the lives of resilient women along the Brazilian Amazon. As executive producer for NFB’s Quebec Atlantic studio, Annette envisions a potent and ambitious slate of short form and feature documentaries, animation, and interactive story telling across a rich and large territory.
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Jean Paul Vialard
FOLEY & MUSIC RECORDING
MUSIC PRODUCED BY
Jeff Johnston – piano/keyboards
François Landry – kaval
Ali Omar El-Farouk – oud
With Quatuor Molinari:
Olga Ranzenhofer – first violin
Antoine Bareil (replaced by Valérie Belzile) – second violin
Frédéric Lambert – viola
Pierre-Alain Bouvrette – cello
MUSIC PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
Erica Wong Ping Lun
By Krassimir Kurktchiyski
© Éditions Cellier
Courtesy of Productions Cellier
Evgeny Mihaylov Archives
(excerpts from the documentary
Beyond Ursa Major, 2003)
DIGITAL EDITING TECHNICIANS
SENIOR PRODUCTION COORDINATOR
Leslie Anne Poyntz
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, QUEBEC ATLANTIC STUDIO
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENGLISH PROGRAM
Michelle van Beusekom
About the NFB
The NFB is Canada’s public producer and distributor of award-winning documentaries, auteur animation, interactive stories and participatory experiences, working with talented creators across the country. The NFB is taking action to combat systemic racism and become a more open and diverse organization, while working to strengthen Indigenous-led production and gender equity in film and digital media. NFB productions have won more than 7,000 awards, including 12 Oscars. To access this unique content, visit NFB.ca.