Spanish doc under fire

Protesters plan attack at Goyas on Medem's 'Basque Ball'

MADRID — “No a la guerra!” (“No to war!”) was the acceptance speech of the majority of winners at last year’s politically charged Goya Awards, Spanish film’s biggest honors.

This year’s ceremony promises to be just as full of conflict as hundreds of anti-terrorist supporters line up Saturday to demonstrate against director Julio Medem’s best documentary nominee, “The Basque Ball, Skin Against Stone,” which deals with Basque country terrorist group ETA and the Spanish government. Members of the Assn. of Terrorist Victims (AVT) and anti-terrorist group Basta Ya! plan to protest at the gala’s entrance sporting stickers saying “ETA NO” and “No to Medem,” a direct reference to last year’s “No to War” display.

“I reject terrorism completely. My solidarity and support of the victims is absolute, without a price and I ask nothing in return,” explained Medem, the director of “Sex and Lucia” and “Lovers of the Polar Circle.” “But there are those who think that this isn’t enough and reject my solidarity as if it stains them. I’m referring to the Assn. of Victims of Terrorism that has organized a protest with the theme, ‘No to Medem.’ Sincerely, this is too much, the injustice of this situation is now pure delirium.”

Since the film’s bow at the San Sebastian Film Fest in September, outspoken pro-government activists have come out against the doc claiming it is a promotion of terrorism that fails to show sufficient sympathy for victims. “The people who declined to participate, I’m speaking of the victims, have been the strongest opponents against the documentary,” says Medem. “They declared their rejection without having seen it and implored Odon Elorza (San Sebastian’s socialist mayor) to pull the film.”

One of those opponents who declined to appear in “The Basque Ball” is Spain’s most famous living philosopher and ETA assassination attempt survivor, the highly respected Fernando Savater, of Basta Ya!, who supports the Medem protest. Many fear that with Savater’s large following, a divisive political situation will now only get worse.

Jorge Bosso, general secretary of the Actors Union and a principal mover of last year’s anti-war campaign, was quoted in the right-wing newspaper La Razon as saying “(he fears that) the protestors want to organize this demonstration to divide us, or worse; it’s payback for going against the powers-that-be,” referring to the protests against the Iraq War at last year’s ceremony. He adds that the Actors Union “has always been against the violence of ETA and terrorism as a whole,” which appears to be the official response of the gala and the Spanish film academy.

“In all cases, the academy is against terrorism and will always be against it,” was the simple comment issued from Spain’s Academy of Cinema. “The industry’s silence in the matter only supports this campaign against Medem, which in effect is a campaign against our culture and the freedom to express one’s self,” says a nominated film producer who didn’t wish to be identified.

But the big question is: Does Medem’s film promote terrorism? Protestors say by simply including terrorists or suggesting dialogue with ETA, “The Basque Ball” crossed the line. They argue that by not including interviews with government officials, Medem was siding with ETA. “My capital sin seems to be that the documentary didn’t deal exclusively with the suffering of the victims of terrorism. The rest of my sins derive from this, that if my film recognizes and debates the existence of a political problem, they conclude that I’m justifying terrorism,” argues Medem.

The government, however, refused to be interviewed for the film, promptly attacked it on its release and attempted to censor the material. “I also want to make it clear that the very serious personal situation of the victims and those under threat evokes all my unconditional solidarity from the human point of view,” writes Medem on the film’s Web site. “But this does not necessarily include my ideological identification, especially when I watch (with horror) how some of them are manipulated and used politically; the PP (governing Popular Party) has made a specialty of this as it is its great source of votes in Spain.”

The Goya Awards, now known as Spain’s Annual Academy Awards of Arts and Sciences, has always been socially committed. As this year’s debate rages on, it appears the Goyas will never escape history.

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