At the end of winter, there are masquerade festivals in Bulgaria where participants, known as Kukers, dress in shaggy garments, masks, and large bells, and sing songs together to scare away evil spirits. "Kukeri" is a short, beautifully captured documentary by Killian Lassablière, featured in The New Yorker Documentary series, that explores this ancient Bulgarian ritual from the perspective of the Kukers.
Throughout the film, there's a determined focus on the concept of legacy. "If you do not believe in something," one of the interviewees says, in voice-over, "it cannot exist." Traditions survive by being transmitted from generation to generation, like genes. Contained in this idea of passing things on is the concept that one can outlive oneself—of life not as finite but as part of a continuum. And there is some truth to this; the Kukeri custom extends back centuries, so far into the past that its origins are obscure. Lassablière said that he wanted to reflect that in the film's audio. The thrumming, skittering soundtrack is inspired by "The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices," an album that features recordings of Bulgarian folk songs. "There's something visceral about it," he wrote, of the traditional style of singing. "It feels sacred." Paired with the importance of legacy is the importance of togetherness—in one section of the documentary, we see old Kukeri and young Kukeri, girls and boys, stand or dance onscreen, together, all clad in their fur-drenched outfits—"leathers," as they're called in the film. A woman describes what it is, exactly, that Kukeri try to scare away with their dancing: "Evil is poverty," she says. "No wheat, corn, potatoes to eat." She says, also, "Evil is when we don't want to be together."