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sofiafest2-6After the sold-out world premieres in Thessaloniki, we took a twisty (sometimes pothole-plagued) van trip north to Blagoevgrad and ultimately to Sofia, Bulgaria, for the next European screening.sofiafest2-4Current home to Jesse’s longtime mentor, producer of The Starfish Throwers (not to mention promoter extraordinaire, advisor and cheerleader) Melody Gilbert and her husband Mark Wollerman, who are teaching at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG), Blagoevgrad surprised us with its surrounding mountains and warm sunshine.sofiafest2-3A quick tour of the AUBG campus warmed us up for presentations to Melody and Mark’s students on storytelling and balancing creating work for both paychecks’ and art’s sake. The students wrote up an article about the presentation for the AUBG website here.sofiafest2-2Jesse and Melody also gave interviews for Bulgarian television on the AUBG campus:

After, we enjoyed a celebratory traditional Bulgarian dinner of grilled meats, roasted red pepper salad, fried potatoes and more—much of it sprinkled with queso-fresco-like white Bulgarian cheese.Photo1 copyPhoto1 A softer cheese drizzled with local honey topped off the hearty dinner (along with a few more sips of Bulgarian Mavrud wine, which reminded us of super-earthy Rhone blends – it was phenomenal and one of Bulgaria’s best kept secrets says Melody.) We practiced a few key Bulgarian words, such as “Cheers!” (“Nazdrave,” which must always be said while looking each person at the table in the eye as you clink glasses), and “thank you” (“Blagodarya”). The pronunciation was a bit of a challenge, but we were inspired by Mark’s impressive accent and progress in learning such important Bulgarian phrases as, “One more beer, please.” sofiafest-2Of course, Melody and Mark’s students are fluent in multiple languages, and flip easily between English, Bulgarian, Russian, Dutch, Romanian and more. (Curious about what Bulgarian sounds like? Check it out here.) sofiafest-4The next day we drove to Sofia, Bulgaria, which has more of the “big city” vibe, where we were joined by a busload of Melody and Mark’s students for the screening at the Sofia International Film Festival. It was a thrill to be screening alongside big-name films like The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Great Beauty, and the huge theater was full of super-engaged viewers, many of whom stayed after to connect and write #ThrowStarfish messages.sofiafest2-7Check out this great video by Alexander Khambir and team for behind the scenes look at the evening, and stay tuned as The Starfish Throwers tour goes stateside for the North American Premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

– Jen Larson Roesler

PS – Have we mentioned how much we miss the AUBG crew??sofiafest-5