Basque cinema


Basque cinema
   For most of its history, Spanish cinema has been dependent on institutional support for its existence. It is not surprising, then, that when the funding of culture was largely devolved to the newly created autonomous regions in the early 1980s, regional institutions had an impact on film production. Although the Basque film industry did not take off as quickly as its Catalan counterpart, the series of measures put into practice by the autonomous government from 1981 onward have been more fruitful and had a more lasting effect than in Catalonia. Among other things, it produced a fascinating generation of filmmakers who trained in the region, including Montxo Armendáriz, Julio Médem, Enrique Urbizu, Daniel Calparsoro, Álex de la Iglesia, and Juanma Bajo Ulloa, in addition to the older generation of directors associated with Basque culture, including Pedro Olea, Eloy de la Iglesia, and Imanol Uribe, who turned to their homeland during that decade in search of inspiration and institutional support.
   Before the political Transition, there were hints of nationalist-inspired interest in making films that reflected regional culture. The most remarkable was Ama Lur (1968), a film in the region's language funded by means of a popular subscription. In the decade that followed, there were no other instances of such projects until the autonomous government took control of cultural matters. In the popular imagination, the Basques were trapped by clichés and represented as stern, earnest, humorless, and traditional. It was time for Basque artists to tell their own stories, to place the problems of the region into more complex cultural and historical contexts.
   Initially, the agenda was in part nationalistic, and in part economic. The earliest instances of films that focused on specifically regional historical concerns are Uribe's El proceso de Burgos (The Burgos Trial, 1979) and La fuga de Segovia (Escape in Segovia, 1981), two strongly realistic films dealing with aspects of the ETA organization, which at the moment was regarded by some intellectuals in the region more as an uncompromising nationalist group than a terrorist organization.
   Given that the nationalist Partido Nacionalista Vasco was in power, strengthening a sense of Basque identity became a priority in terms of cultural policy. One consequence is the setting up of a bold scheme for supporting films that dealt with specifically Basque issues. Although releasing a version in the Basque language was encouraged, this was not enforced, given that only some 20 percent of the population actually understand the language. Institutional funding would contribute 25 percent of the total budget. Some conditions were attached to obtaining the subsidy: a version in Euskera had to be released in the region (even when the shooting took place in Spanish), no less than 70 percent of the personnel must live and work in Basque country, and preference would be given to films that display the Basque landscape. The scheme was very successful: 35 films made by 28 different filmmakers were completed in the 1980s. Some directors from the region who had settled in Madrid, like Eloy de la Iglesia and Pedro Olea, saw this as an opportunity to return to their homeland, but they found the scheme was not very useful to established filmmakers. Both returned to Madrid after frustrating experiences with cultural authorities (Otra vuelta de tuerca [ The Turn of the Screw, 1985 ] in the case of De la Iglesia, Akelarre [ 1984 ] in the case of Olea).
   One of the earliest achievements derived from the scheme was Montxo Armendáriz's Tasio (1984), which remains emblematic of the approach: a film that reflected on the vicissitudes of the territory by focusing on a family of peasants living in a village surrounded by deep forests. Julio Medem's Vacas (1992) is a modernist variation on this kind of family saga. In 2006, Armendáriz came back to reflect his homeland's tradition with the folksy Obaba (2006), based on one of the most important post-Franco fictions in Euskera, written by Bernardo Atxaga.
   A serious discussion of politics in the region cannot leave aside issues of drugs and terrorism. Ana Díez's Ander eta Yul (Ander and Yul, 1989) is one of the most uncompromising Basque titles of the 1980s, a story about a drug dealer who finishes his prison sentence to find his old friend Yul is a member of ETA. Imanol Uribe returned to stories about members of ETA with La muerte de Mikel (Mikel's Death, 1984) and Dias contados (Few Days Remaining, 1994), the latter about a terrorist who moves to Madrid to prepare a bombing. A non-Basque director, Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, directed Todos estamos invitados (We Are All Invited, 2007), one of the most consistent explorations of the atmosphere of everyday fear in unexceptional backgrounds. Finally, Julio Medem's La pelota vasca (The Basque Ball, 2003) is a sustained debate on Basque nationalism and violence, intended as a forum for a wide range of voices, in which both university professors threatened by ETA and members of the political representatives of the organization articulated their points of view. The conservative Partido Popular refused to participate, as they saw any attempt to make sense of ETA activity as publicity.
   The younger generation have left the mountainous landscapes for the city and tend to sidestep nationalist concerns in their films, to concentrate on urban stories. Daniel Calparsoro has taken inspiration from the postindustrial wastelands of the big city for his despairing Pasajes (1996), and Enrique Urbizu adapted for his debut film Todo por la pasta (Everything for the Dough, 1991) noir conventions to industrial Bilbao (a grim, derelict city designed by Álex de la Iglesia). Other than these two films, the new generation of post-1990 Basque directors have no common outlook or themes. In some cases, like that of Álex de la Iglesia, they have progressively focused on non-Basque stories and backgrounds (his latest film to date, The Oxford Murders [ 2007 ], was set in England; before that he had shot Perdita Durango [ 1997 ] in the United States). Although some of the most original cinema in Europe today comes from Basque country, it is hard to see its practitioners as a compact group: the only thing in common is talent, originality, and the pressures of exceptional circumstances.
   Historical Dictionary of Spanish Cinema by Alberto Mira

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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