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Location Basque Country: A Tale of Three Provinces

A drill-down on what Basque Country’s three provinces offer, in tax breaks, facilities and beyond

SAN SEBASTIAN — The three Basque provinces, Alava, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, share green and mountainous landscapes and one of the more attractive tax credits in Spain: a 30% tax shelter for local film, TV and animated productions. Their respective film commissions are teaming to co-ordinate in joint actions for international promotion under the Film Basque Country umbrella. “We are not competitors but strategic allies,” says Bizkaia’s Bilbao city councilor Xabier Ochandiano. But there are some nuances in each territory’s film offer.

ALAVA

Vitoria, capital of the Basque Country, is re-launching its film office, as the big-screen adaptation of best-selling novel “El silencio de la ciudad blanca,” a benchmark for the city’s image, is scheduled to roll there by next year.

The feature adaptation of Eva García Sáenz de Urturi’s crime-thriller book, “El silencio” is produced by Atresmedia Cine, the powerful film arm of Spanish broadcaster Atresmedia, in partnership with Barcelona’s Rodar y Rodar (“The Orphanage”).

The first part of a literary trilogy, “El silencio de la ciudad blanca” takes place in Vitoria and environs in the Alava province. “The novel is like a tourist brochure,” says Ana Ruiz at the Vitoria-Gasteiz Film Office. Expectations are high about the project’s impact on local filming development.

As in the other Basque provinces, Alava offers a 30% tax shelter for Spanish film, TV and animated productions, capped at 40% of total production and P&A costs,. At least 50% of the deduction must be spent in each territory, up to a ceiling of €3 million ($3,6 million).

From 2016, Alava offers a 40% tax incentive for Basque-language productions. Also, international projects can tap 15% tax payback against their spend of at least €1 million ($1.2 million).

There are more attractions than tax breaks when it comes to filming in Alava. Spreading its services to all the province, the Vitoria-Gasteiz Film Office boast “standout locations such as the Medieval Quarter of Vitoria, the vineyards of La Rioja Alavesa and the futuristic Alava Technologic Park,” says Ruiz.

Talents such as Goya Award-winning animated film director Maite Ruiz de Austri (“El regreso del viento del norte”) and d.p. Gorka Gómez Andreu (“House of Others”), winner this year of the Spotlight Award of the American Society of Cinematographers, few up in Alava.

Upcoming shoots in the territory include Sonora Estudios’ real facts-inspired feature “Vitoria, 3 de marzo,” about five men’s death during a police  eviction of workers at a meeting in San Francisco de Asis church in Vitoria in 1976, set against the background of Spain’s political transition to democracy.

BIZKAIA

Film tourism in Bizkaia is booming. Boosted by “Game of Thrones” Season 7 shoot in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and the Barrika beach, thousands of HBO series’ fans have started to make a pilgrimage to the territory.

“The arrival of visitors generates a positive impact on the economic activity, employment and the international projection of the Bilbao-Bizkaia brand,” says Xabier Ochandiano.

The 30% tax shelter for film and TV investments can be applied by Bizkaia-based tax payers on up to 40% of production costs and P&A.

Leveraging Bizkaia’s advantageous tax regime, new outfits are launching such as Bilbao-based Laniakea Capital, run by producers Eduardo Carneros (Nacho Vigalondo’s “Timecrimes”) and Alejandro Miranda (“Buried”).

“There is a great competition in the tax incentives area,” says Imanol Pradales at Bizkaia’s Diputación Foral. “We want to position ourselves in the international market as a reference destination in the shoot industry.”

Pradales adds: “We are committed to extending our reputation and what makes us different, via the value of our locations -city, coast, nature, historical centers, industrial landscapes-, the competence of local professional teams and a modern network of infrastructures.”

Producer Carnerosis  teaming with Mediaset España’s film production arm Telecinco Cinema, on Gracia Querejeta’s comedy “Crime Wave,” starring Maribel Verdú, which rolls in Bizkaia from the fall, as does Julio Medem’s family drama “El árbol de la sangre,” produced by Ibon Cormenzana at Arcadia Motion Pictures.

Rodaje de Juego de Tronos en San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

GIPUZKOA

Antonio Cuadri’s “Operación Concha,” a comedy set at the San Sebastian Festival -where it premieres Monday Sept. 25-, exemplifies the strong synergies between the festival and the local film industry.

“The San Sebastian Festival places the territory on the film map and primes producers’ interest in filming there,” says Mikel Diez Sarasola, head of the Culture Cabinet at Gipuzkoa’s governmental Diputación Foral.

For years, Gipuzkoa and its capital, San Sebastian, are generating a “propitious ecosystem,” in Diez Sarasola words, to develop the film production sector. Further key contributions to that cause include the Andoain film and video school ESCIVI, the influence of generations of  ’80s and ’90s Basque filmmakers and also public and private finance. An Elías Querejeta Film School will join these training facilities in the future. Beyond the 30% tax scheme available across all the Basque Country, channeled through Agrupaciones de Interés Económico (AIE) tax vehicles, Gipuzkoa is propelling new film investment measures.

The Diputación Foral has approved a €175,000 ($209,000) support fund for Gipuzkoa-set projects at any stage before release. Dubbed Lanabesa, the subsidies cannot exceed 70% of project’s expenditure nor the maximum amount of €40,000 ($48,000), Diez Sarasola says.

Gipuzkoa has recently invested €150,000 ($179,000) in five local projects, three of them playing at the current San Sebastian edition: Official selection contender “Handia” and documentaries “Chillida: Esku Huts” and “Baskavigin,” both screening at the Basque Zinemira sidebar.

Last year, more than 100 film and TV projects rolled in 30 cities in Gipuzkoa province, generating a €7.8 million ($9.3 million) direct investment. Among them, part of “Game of Thrones” Season 7 and Atresmedia hit TV comedy series “Allí abajo.”

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