MADRID – Elias Querejeta, the producer of many of the greatest modern classics made by Spain’s most distinguished directors under and after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, died Sunday at his Madrid home. He was 78.
Querejeta was born in 1934 into a well-heeled family, living in the Basque Country’s Hernani, a small town a half-hour train ride from San Sebastian.
As a child he ran wild. In adulthood, during long lunches, swilled down by whisky or, in later years, Marques de Riscal Sauvignon white, he would still remember the escapades of his childhood.
Franco’s bloody, cruel dictatorship, imposed on Spain from 1939 through a Civil War, blighted Querejeta’s youth and ran completely contrary to his liberal upbringing and temperament.
A First Division professional soccer player for San Sebastian’s Real Sociedad – no long lunch with Querejeta was complete with his fond remembrance of the goal he scored in 1955 against Real Madrid – Querejeta stopped playing at 24 when, he said, he found himself running around a training field without realizing he was running.
A member of San Sebastian’s cine-club, a bastion of nascent rebellion against Franco, Querejeta directed two documentaries – “A traves de San Sebastian” and “A traves del futbol” with Anton Eceiza – before moving to Madrid and into production in 1963; two years later, Querejeta produced Carlos Saura’s “The Hunt,” a flagship of the so-called New Spanish Cinema, a move towards a more modern cinema made by young directors and subsidized by the more liberal wing of Franco’s government.
The start of a long collaboration with Carlos Saura, which produced Cannes Special Jury Prize winner “Raise Ravens” (1975) and “Deprisa, deprisa” (1981), with “The Hunt,” a Berlin Festival Silver Bear winner, Querejeta established a modus operandi which he maintained throughout his career: a close-knit team of top tech collaborators, such as, on “The Hunt,” cinematographer Luis Cuadrado, editor Pablo G. del Amo and composer Luis de Pablo; a large work of documentation and insistence on development; the casting of famous stars, often playing against their star personas, here Alfredo Mayo, star of an adaptation of Francisco Franco’s own novel; the creation of near chamber piece with larger social resonance, casting judgment on the Spain.
“The Hunt” was a political parable about three old friends, all of whom fought for Franco, who go off to shoot rabbits and end up shooting each other.
Querejeta went on to produce films that again questioned Spaniards’ seemingly atavistic propensity towards internecine violence (Ricardo Franco’s 1975 “Pascual Duarte,”), plumbed the traumas of the Spanish Civil War (Victor Erice’s 1973 masterpiece “The Spirit of the Beehive”) and questioned Spaniard’s ability to shrug off the past (Jaime Chavarri’s trenchant 1976-1980 trilogy of “The Disenchantment,” “To a Unknown God” and “Dedicated To…” ).
Long after Franco’s death in 1975, in Montxo Armendariz’s “Tasio” (1984), about a charcoal-burner who refuses to give up his way of life, Fernando Leon’s unemployment-themed “Mondays in the Sun” (2002) or Eterio Ortega’s docu-feature “Asesinato en febrero” (2002), about the victims of ETA, Querejeta continued producing movies which questioned Spain’s much-trumpeted modernization and the extent of its real achievements in democracy.
As Spain’s economy boomed from the 1990s, Querejeta’s liberal skepticism and social-issue preoccupations were written-off by some critics as old-hat. Crisis from 2008, mass unemployment, rampant corruption scandals and bitter political in-fighting have only served, however, to underscore their relevance.
Querejeta is survived by a daughter, Gracia Querejeta, a film director in her own right, for whom Elias Querejeta produced three notable family dramas, the last his last fiction feature production, 2007’s “Seven Billard Tables,” plus a rare venture for Querejeta into English: “Robert Ryland’s Last Journey,” with Ben Cross and Gary Piquer.
(Emiliano de Pablos contributed to this article.)