Ulli Gladik meets Natasha while the latter woman is begging in Graz and, after a number of conversations, accompanies her to her home of Breznik, a former industrial town near Sofia. Over a period of two years Gladik, a combination camerawoman and director, visits Natasha in Bulgaria and Austria, documenting the young woman’s life: her journeys and traveling companions, her work as a beggar, her home in Graz, her family life and everyday routine in Bulgaria.
Our clichés regarding beggars from the former East Bloc disintegrate with every image. Natasha is no different than we are, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes in love or depressed. Saying goodbye to her 10-year-old son Vasko has become routine, though it is still painful. Natasha’s parents, siblings and her son manage to get by thanks to Natasha’s “trade.” Some people comb the formerly state-owned factories and kolkhozes for bits of wire and waste metal that they can sell for a few cents. Natasha, too young to retire, has no job opportunities and virtually no hope for the future and, with the money she makes begging, she tries to make her life bearable in a house that has been under construction for decades now.
She discusses begging with her brother: “It was hard in the beginning. I stared at the ground for the first five days, then I started looking people in the eyes. You’ll never get any money if you just look at the ground.”
The handheld camera creates proximity without ever losing respect for the individuals. Gladik’s film portrays Natasha as being strong and self-confident, someone who laughs and struggles, who knows how to celebrate and also what has to be done. A sense that we should feel sorry for Natasha is never conveyed.
The discussion will follow the screening with Kumar Vishwanathan, social worker and founder Czech-Roma Coexistence Village, Renata Gažiová, from civic association Coexistence Life and Arie Farnam, American publicist focusing on multicultural society. The screening is in partnership with the Austrian Cultural Forum in Prague.