In Killian Lassablière’s Short Film ‘Kukeri,’ a Centuries-Old Bulgarian Tradition Wards Off Evil Spirits
“Evil is when we don’t want to be together… This is what we do: we banish it so that we can all be together, all equal,” says one of the subjects of Killian Lassablière’s short documentary “Kukeri,” a movingly atmospheric portrait of a centuries-old Bulgarian ritual. Part of The New Yorker Documentary series, the film highlights the cultural practice from the perspective of its participants, known as Kukers, who describe the roots of faith, community, and family that draw them together each spring to ward off evil spirits.
During the annual event, dancers don elaborate animal skin garments, intimidating masks, and huge bells around their waists to appear spectral and huge. For those who participate, it is a calling with mysterious, spiritual ties. “It was innate for me, and it kept growing over the years,” one narrator says. “No one can say why they dressed up as a Kuker for the first time. It has been passed down from generation to generation.” Lassablière focuses on the custom’s ancestral and future appeal, as children dance with their parents and look forward to being able to dance with the big bells.
See the entire film on The New Yorker’s YouTube channel, and find more work by Lassablière on his website. You might also enjoy photographer Charles Freger’s portraits of Kukers and practitioners of similar Eastern European traditions.