About five or six years ago, Bulgarian filmmaker Ilian Djevelekov realized how easy it was to buy, install and use miniature hidden cameras. Once only used by professional spies and prohibitively expensive, they were now available to anyone and affordable. He soon started thinking of all the possible issues the use of such cameras could bring up, and that led to Omnipresent, which he directed, co-wrote and produced.
The film, which swept the top categories and took the audience prize at Bulgaria’s national film festival, is the Balkan country’s official Foreign Language Oscar entry this year.
“This is the big question: if you have an opportunity to control and spy on your closest people, would you do it or not? And is it right or wrong?,” Djevelekov said during a Q&A session following Omnipresent‘s Awardsline screening.
In the movie, the protagonist Emil (Velislav Pavlov), an ad agency owner and successful novelist seeking inspiration for his next book, takes that opportunity. Originally installing one hidden camera in his parents’ home to help catch a thief when valuables start to disappear, he becomes obsessed with the private lives of those around him, eventually putting everyone under constant surveillance by bugging his home, his office and even himself, wearing spy glasses with a built-in camera. (You can watch a trailer below.)
“It’s that drive of an artist to find an inspiration that is a big excuse sometimes to do crazy stuff to other people and to yourself,” Pavlov said when talking about his character and his motivation.
For authenticity, Omnipresent‘s visual style mixes traditional camera work with hidden camera footage. Some of it was filmed by Pavlov, wearing hidden camera-equipped glasses or a GoPro camera strapped to his forehead, which was pretty challenging.
“Sometimes it was hard for people in a scene with me not to laugh,” Pavlov said. “For me, it felt almost like walking blindfolded. You can not move your head, your peripheral vision is switched off. But it worked.”
One of the main themes in Omnipresent is about the truth. As Emil — watching the secret camera feeds — discovers secrets that those around him would not want shared, the film poses the question, Would you want to always know the truth or is it better if you don’t sometimes?
Djevelekov used a quote from the movie for his take on the subject, “You need to know only as much as you can bear,” he said. Added Pavlov, “It’s not the truth that is killing you, it’s the lies.”
Omnipresent ultimately taps into the hot-button issues of the role of technology and surveillance in our society.
“Technology is there to help us, to make our lives easier, but the moment we start abusing it, bad things can happen, and it’s our responsibility as a society and individuals to draw the line somewhere,” is how producer Mila Voinikova summed up the film’s message.
Check out our conversation above.
Here is the trailer: