Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Contemporary Basque Cinema: Online, Elsewhere and Otherwise Engaged

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Contemporary Basque Cinema: Online, Elsewhere and Otherwise Engaged

Article excerpt

Each year, as part of the San Sebastian Film Festival, the Zinemira sidebar, which is co-organized by the festival and the Ministry of Culture of the Basque Government and supported by the Basque television network EITB, offers a snapshot of the condition of Basque cinema and awards the Premio Irizar and 620,000 to the best Basque film. The 2013 programme featured just eight films, seven of which were documentaries on Basque subjects. These included Alardearen Seme-alabak [Sons and Daughters of the Alarde1] (Eneko Olasagasti and Jone Karres, 2013), which examines the participation of women in the fiesta of Los Alardes in Irun and Hondarribia; Asier eta biok [Asier and I] (Amaia Merino and Aitor Merino, 2013), which explores an enduring friendship between the filmmakers and a childhood friend who became an ETA militant; Encierro (Olivier Van Der Zee, 2013), which is self-explanatory and shot partly in 3D; Esvastica bat Bidasoa [The Basque Swastika] (Alfonso Andrés Ayarza and Javier Barajas, 2013) about the Nazi fascination with Basque culture; and Izenik Gabe, 200x133 [Without Title, 200x133] (Enara Goikotetxea and Monika Zumeta, 2013), which studies the working methodology of the Guipuzcoan painter José Luis Zurneta Etxeberria.

Documentaries based on personal, local, regional and archival themes dominate because they are inexpensive and comparatively easy to make at a time when the Spanish government has reduced funding for film production from 671 to 650.8 million (compared with 6120 million in the UK, 6340 million in Germany and 6770 million in France), despite a rise in the export of Spanish films in 2012 of 19.2 per cent on 2011, and added a steep hike in the tax on ticket prices, from 8 per cent to 21 per cent as opposed to 7 per cent in France). Documentaries are shot, edited, screened, marketed and most often seen via low- to no-budget digital technologies that create new channels and forms of production and distribution, whether online or as part of resurgent and emergent film societies and festivals enabled by popular demand for relevant, socially conscious audiovisual stimuli and, increasingly, the assumption and acceptance of creative commons licences by audiences and filmmakers respectively. At a time of austerity and growing social unrest, the prevalence of documentaries that provide knowledge, invite reflection and incite debate also broadens the definition of popular film and Basque cinema in particular. In addition, it should be noted that the Zinemira documentaries are almost all co-directed, which reflects the collective endeavour and collaborative ethos in the arena of filmmaking in the Basque Country and represents a fresh emphasis on the identity of a community that is not just Basque but crucially one that both invites and extends empathy towards similarly sedimented filmmaking cultures around the world.

This surge of digital creativity may even resolve decades of argument over whether or not Basque cinema actually exists, in which López Echevarrieta (1984), Zunzunegui (1985), Gutiérrez (1994), Lasagabaster (1995), De Pablo (1996; 2012), Roldán Larreta (1999), Stone (2001), Gabilondo (2002), Martí-Olivella (2003), Rodríguez (2002), Davies (2009) and Fernández (2012), among others, have contended with paradox, contradiction and shifts in geographical, political and aesthetic ideas of Basqueness. Compared to Catalan cinema, where the linguistic imperative is more often clear-cut in the films themselves and the recent move towards gallery spaces and art house cinemas by the likes of José Luis Guerín, Albert Serra and Isaki Lacuesta has provided fresh evidence of Catalan enterprise, the definition of Basque cinema remains elusive in its provenance and, in part, deliberately unresolved by a preference for constant redefinition via argument.

The origins of filmmaking in the Basque Country are wrapped in the allusions to politicized myth fostered by modern Basque nationalism at the end of the nineteenth century. …

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