Growing up in Bulgaria, Zhivko Illeieff, '11, listened to his grandparents' stories about what life was like living under a communist regime. This summer he and Charles Mike, '11, will travel through Bulgaria capturing the stories of those who experienced the transition to democracy on film, editing the stories they tape into a documentary. A $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant is funding the trip.

Illeieff says the project was inspired by his grandfather's death in October of 2009. He realized that his generation, the first to only know Bulgaria as a democracy, would slowly lose their living memory of communism as older generations thin.

"I was not able to spend much time with him and ask him what life was like during communism," he said. "I am a part of a generation that grew up during Bulgaria's transition to democracy. Through many conversations with ordinary Bulgarians, I realized how vastly different Bulgaria was 20 years ago. In a sense, people my age have inherited a very unfamiliar culture."

Bulgaria was under communist rule from 1946 to 1989, the last 35 of those years under the leadership of Todor Zhivkov. Yet Illeieff says that many of Bulgaria's citizens remain nostalgic toward communism. Last year when the 20th anniversary of Zhivkov's removal from office rolled around, no celebration was held to mark the occasion.

"Prior to 1989, it was extremely hard to travel outside of the country, spying and snitching on dissidents was encouraged by the Communist Party, and people's freedoms were being taken away," Illeieff said. "At the same time, there is a certain wistfulness for communism, because people generally felt more financially secure, safe, and productive then."

Illeieff drew Mike into the project when he realized he'd need to work with someone who had filming and editing experience. Since his freshman year, Mike has done video production for School of Continuing Studies professor Dan Roberts' National Public Radio series "A Moment in Time." He also has collaborated with his father, theater professor Chuck Mike, on audiovisual components for several of the theater department's productions.

"We joke and say that my job is to just point the camera and let Zhivko do the talking," Mike said. "But really, I'm excited to go and experience the culture and history while being able to contribute to the project."

Illeieff and Mike will spend the first three weeks of their trip conducting research with a third team member, Tsvetan Naydenov, who attends the Academy of TV, Film Arts and Internet Communications in Sofia. They'll also be working with Dr. Alexandar Iliev, who has traveled extensively throughout Bulgaria.

The team will then embark on a month-long tour of the country, interviewing people from as many different cities as possible. They'll spend their final few weeks editing the footage into a 30-minute film and preparing for its premiere in Sofia.

"It will be healing for the people to hear each others' stories, to see what's being said across the country," Illeieff said. "And it will be exciting for us to be able to have a formal premiere of our summer's work."