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Proud Citizen a creative leap for Lexington duo; film premieres at Kentucky Theater

 (Photo from ProudCitizentheMovie.com)

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, shown in a clip from ‘Proud Citizen,’ co-created the movie with filmmaker Thom Southerland. They both live in Lexington, where the movie premieres Thursday, Jan. 15. (Photo from ProudCitizentheMovie.com)


By Kristy Robinson Horine
KyForward correspondent

Sometimes, creative ideas are born from glimpses out of the corners of our eyes. Sometimes, they sprout from seeds planted years before. And sometimes, they flitter through the air, riding invisible radio waves.

Thus was the beginning of Proud Citizen, an independent film co-created by filmmaker Thom Southerland and Bulgarian-born writer Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, both of Lexington. The film is scheduled to premiere for a single performance at the Kentucky Theater on Thursday, Jan. 15, at 7:30 p.m.

“The story for the film began when I was driving one day in the winter of 2012 and heard Katerina’s voice on the radio during the broadcast of her WRFL (88.1 FM, Lexington) show,” says Southerland, who served as the film’s co-writer, director, editor and cinematographer. “I thought her voice and storytelling skills were mesmerizing and wondered if I could build a film around such an intriguing person.”

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

Southerland’s wondering soon became a reality. On March 23, 2012, he was a guest on the radio program Stoykova-Klemer had founded – “Accents, A Radio Show for Literature, Art and Culture.”

“He asked if I wanted to do a project together and I said, of course. I always say yes because I like projects, and I like working with people, and I like him. He said, ‘There is some work in front of camera” and I said, ‘No problem,’” Stoykova-Klemer laughs and waves her hand in the air.

Her Bulgarian accent curls around each word she is careful to enunciate. She gives a little shrug and asks, “Do you know what that means? Work in front of camera? That means acting, but I did not know that. I thought I would carry stuff from one place to another. But then I figured out it was acting, and it was terrifying. And my role kept on getting bigger and bigger.”

The 90-minute indie film cost $7,500 to make, six months to shoot and another six months to edit. So far, it’s racked up eight awards, including the Jury Award Winner for Narrative Feature at the New Orleans Film Festival, Best of the Fest Winner at the River’s Edge International Film Festival, and was named Audience Favorite at the Knoxville Film Festival.

The film is part documentary and part fiction, and it demonstrates a creative leap for both Stoykova-Klemer and Southerland.  

Thom Southerland

Thom Sutherland

Writing the story as they went along, Southerland and Stoykova-Klemer married the reality of creative life with the reality of Stoykova-Klemer’s background in Bulgaria. Stoykova-Klemer, who has never acted in film before, plays the part of the female lead, “Krasi.”

“The character is very much Thom’s idea, but the backstory is very personal to me because I ended up using some of my biographical poems in the film,” Stoykova-Klemer says. “The Black Code play that the film is referring to is actually a manuscript of mine.”

Making the film enabled Stoykova-Klemer to become a more transparent artist. Transparency, though, often leads to vulnerability, something which Stoykova-Klemer admits terrified her.

“I called my husband and I cried,” Stoykova-Klemer admitted. “I did not want to embarrass myself internationally. I was scared that I would ruin the movie. I was scared I would ruin the giant group project. After a week of acting, I told my husband, I think I can do that. And he said, ‘Oh, you always do that! Why do you always do that?’”

Stoykova-Klemer shrugs again and looks out the window. Being terrified doesn’t usually stop her from reaching her goals. Her American journey began with a simple letter in April 1994 through International Pen Friends, a group that connects people in different countries to each other.

“I was 24 and finishing engineering school. He was 28 at the time and finishing his P.h.D,” Stoykova-Klemer says. It was love at first letter, she recalls.

It wasn’t long before she immigrated to the United States, married the man of letters and settled into a software and hardware programmer’s life.

“I would create a program in which you would push a button, a motor moves and takes a measurement and calculates and adjusts something, some automation. Very technical. I have three degrees in that regard,” she says. “When Java came out, it was like writing poems. You get those whole descriptive variable names and make cool things happen. It is like instant gratification in programming. I liked that part.”

proud citizen 225

She also liked the poetic, creative part of her job. It reminded her of life back home in the port city of Burgas, where her writing had been widely published. Once she moved to the US and started her technical job, she put away her writing for 11 years.

“I didn’t mourn the writing consciously. I convinced myself I didn’t want to write. Of course, I believed it. You can convince yourself of anything,” she says. “I said it was something I did before and it doesn’t apply to me now.”

In 2004, Katerina and her husband moved to Kentucky. In 2006, Katerina pulled to the side of the road and parked in a Kroger parking lot. It was there she wrote her first poem in English.

“It was pleasure. I found pleasure from writing. There is this joy, I swear, it is physical,” she says. “The joy and the pleasure of writing is identical whether it is in English or Bulgarian. It is pre-verbal. It is not connected to what language you can write. It is connected to the soul I think.”

That connection led her on a creative journey that alternated between terror and pleasure.

By February 2007, she had teamed up with Colin Watkins, another Lexington writer, to start Poezia, a poetry group that still meets to this day. In November 2007, she began her Master of Fine Arts program with Spalding University in Louisville.

“By the time that first residency was finished, I knew I was going to have to quit my job,” she remembers. “I was terrified. My husband was entirely supportive and I had colleagues who couldn’t understand I was quitting my job to write poetry. That’s ludicrous, they said. I remember that word because I had to look it up.”

She soon learned there was nothing ludicrous about her creative tenacity. She also learned that if she believed hard enough, she could do anything.

She finished her master’s, started the Accents radio program, opened her own publishing house, Accents Publishing, had her first bilingual book, The Air Around the Butterfly, published in Bulgaria, completed her first 350-page anthology of translations, won Bulgaria’s equivalent to the U.S. National Book Award, filmed her first movie, and is now working on her memoir. It is another project that scares her.

“It scares me a lot. That’s what I do, I get scared. I get terrified. Don’t you?” she asks. “I have to trick myself into doing things, but at some point, I figured out, I can do that. I accepted that I could fail, and then I just did things.”

She nods and clasps her hands in front of her. “I would rather regret doing something, than not doing something,” she says.

For more information on Proud Citizen, click here. To order tickets and get more information about showtimes, www.KentuckyTheater.com.

Kristy Robinson Horine is a freelance journalist who lives in Paris.

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