In the heart of Bulgaria's Rose Valley, Irina is desperate to give her four-year-old daughter, Stefi, a better start in life.
She is struggling single mother, working two jobs to put food on the table. Her main source of income comes from her dangerous work at a weapons factory where she measures and packs gunpowder into artillery shells.
Struggling to pay the rent, bills, and Stefi's kindergarten fees, she moves out of her parents' rural village to be closer to her work - despite not knowing whether she can afford it.
Her only respite is singing, a talent taught to her by her late grandfather, which she uses to sing for extra money in local restaurants.
But as the rent and bills stack up, Irina is forced to take on a third job offering high-interest loans to equally desperate friends and family.
This is an intimate story about poverty and the price a mother is prepared to pay to ensure a better life for her child.
|Irina works two jobs but struggles to pay the rent, bills and her daughter's kindergarten fees [Simon Hipkins/Al Jazeera]
By Simon Hipkins
The Russian writer Anton Chekhov focused his plays on charismatic yet ordinary people, doing ordinary things and suffering ordinarily in deeply real and touching ways. For Chekhov, the ordinary was extraordinary.
It is easy to imagine the Bulgarian town of Kazanlak and Irina's life story appearing in a Chekhov play. This is a town where it's perfectly normal for sweet-looking, middle-aged women to tell you how many thousand Kalashnikov rifles they have assembled in their lifetime; it's a town where the population seems oblivious to the noise of explosions coming from the testing area of the nearby weapons factory.
In fact, this area, in the hinterland of the country, is a place where much of the adult population works, or did work at some point in their lives, in the weapons factories of the arms manufacturer Arsenal.
In keeping with this idea of searching for the extraordinary in the ordinary, I decided to focus my film on the daily life of one of the many women who work in the largest of Arsenal's factories.
What emerged was a deeper story about how a woman who cares deeply about her daughter and the people around her can end up making bullets for a living. It's a story about dreams and the sacrifices we make to keep them alive.
When I first met Irina, I immediately wanted to make a film about her. As a single mother in a strongly patriarchal society, she is extremely vulnerable but refuses to be a victim. She is determined to remain optimistic about life despite the bleak situation surrounding her.
|Irina works in a munitions department at a factory in Kazanlak, making bullets and artillery shells [Simon Hipkins/Al Jazeera]
By day, Irina works in the munitions department of Arsenal's infamous Factory Number 10, making bullets and artillery shells. At night, however, she transforms into a singer, performing traditional folk and pop songs in local bars and restaurants. She does this partly to make extra money to pay the bills, but also because she loves to sing.
I followed Irina during the moment in her life when she was moving from her parents' village to the town of Kazanlak itself. She desperately wanted to live in the town so she could give her daughter, Stefi, the chances in life that were denied to her.
As I got to know Irina better, she explained to me that when she was younger, she dreamed of developing her singing talent further and had wanted study at a music school. Sadly, these dreams were crushed by a combination of poverty and societal oppression - a story all too familiar in Bulgaria.
The very sudden switch from communism to neo-liberal capitalism in the 1990s sent a shockwave through Bulgarian society that continues to reverberate today.
The promise of prosperity offered by European Union membership in 2007 has failed to materialise. Hundreds of thousands of people have emigrated and a third of the population currently live in poverty. Many survive day-to-day, borrowing money from credit agencies at extortionate rates of interest.
Irina's story, her attempt to live her dreams and provide for her daughter are a demonstration of an individual's agency in the midst of this maelstrom. Her small acts of kindness towards her daughter and others offer us a chance to get a glimpse of humanity surviving despite the odds.
Through this story I hope we can learn, as in a Chekhov play, that it is the ordinary that is always extraordinary.
Source: Al Jazeera