The villages in southwestern Bulgaria, between the Rila Mountains on the one side and Rhodope Mountains on the other, have been long known for cultivation and production of tobacco. Muslim Pomaks that are still engaged in this work are facing a decline in production due to the low purchase price of dry tobacco leaves and difficult working conditions. Tobacco production, once an element of identification of the villages, is now becoming an element of the past, a part of social memory fused with multiple connotations and meanings.
The ethnographic film Tobacco memories follows Fatme and her family in the village of Debren (southwest Bulgaria) and shows the spatial and material dimensions of tobacco production and the familiy’s relationship to the slowly disappearing lifestyle. The intrinsic flow of the work process with its repetitive routine embodied in their gestures during work stimulates different and multi layered memories and a certain measure of nostalgia for the former political (and economic) system.
The working process was partly depicted by the late visual anthropologist Asen Balikci, who filmed everyday life in the village of Brežnica near Debren. His film entitled Pomak Portraits: Women of Breznitsa from 1997 shows different phases of tobacco production, i.e. similar routines and problems seen in the film Tobacco memories.
Camera, editing, script: Manca Filak
Sound & image postproduction: Žiga Gorišek
Subtitles: Manca Filak, Georgi Medarov
Technical advisement: AVL, ISN ZRC SAZU
Filmed in Debren, 2017; edited in Slovenia, 2020.
Visual ethnography was a part of an Erasmus + Traineeship program at the Center for intangible cultural heritage, Institute for folkloristics and Ethnographic museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia (Bulgaria).