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Basque Cinema Drives into International Co-production

Government sector looks for allies to scale up reach, budget, expertise

SAN SEBASTIAN — Kicking off with a kinetic, slinking tracking-shot capturing the energy and Scorsese-ish voiceover of a young but caustic Ryszard Kapuściński during Angola’s 1975 Civil War, Basque animation movie “Another Day of Life” screens at San Sebastian in its best-of-the-fests Perlak section, rubbing shoulders with Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” and Damien Chazelle’s “First Man.”

Dazzling March’s Cartoon Movie and scoring a Cannes Festival Special Screening, “Another Day of Life” is a work of the highest artistic ambition, yoking the documentary passion of co-director Raul de la Fuente and multifold film means: Animation action, nightmares, flashbacks; and live-action cutaways, archive footage, and contemporary interview.

Yet “Another Day of Life” is also a mark of the Basque cinema’s drive into international co-production, in one of the most intricate and demanding pan-European partnerships of recent years, spanning a decade, with San Sebastian’s Kanaki Films involving partners from Poland’s (Platige Films) as well as Walking the Dog (Belgium), Wüste Film (Germany), Animationsfabrik (Germany) and Puppetworks (Hungary). Little wonder “Another Day of Life” won a 2018 Cartoon Movie Tribute as Production of the Year. Attacking on multiple fronts, the Basque Country’s film industry  is now driving into co-production.

The co-production surge is most evident in projects in development,  which are being structured as co-productions, said Aitxiber Atorrasagasti, the Basque government’s head of culture promotion. But it is now a general trend, at least among high-profile projects and productions.. Of 19 titles highlighted by Variety this year in a production survey, nearly half (9) are co-productions. Take out of that mix documentaries – usually lower-budget, so easier to finance 100% domestically – and this ratio rises to over 60%: 8 out of 13.

Moving into co-production, the Basque Country really has little choice. With just 2.2 million inhabitants in Spain, spread over three provinces – Alava, Biscay and Gipuzkoa – the Basque Country’s home market is too small to support many bigger productions.

Basque films can sell abroad. But co-productions open markets in a much simpler fashion, argued Atorrasagasti. There’s also an economic consideration, she added: Co-productions allow companies to take on ever more ambitious projects with larger budgets, which present our history to the world.

For some years, Basque public-sector policy, facilitating producers’ international market attendance, has been fundamental in encouraging companies to seek co-production abroad. From 2017 development grants include market attendance, with the goal of tying down co-production.

Basque producers can also now bring more to the table in  international co-productions. Though not yet totally harmonized, 30% tax credits are now available to Basque producers in the three Basque Country provinces via an Agrupación de Interés Económico (AIE). Telmo Esnal’s Basque musical “Dantza,” which world premiered Monday as a San Sebastian Special Screening, used the credit, which was “highly necessary and worked very well indeed,” said producer Marian Fernandez Pascal at Txintxua Films, which also backs Koldo Almandoz’s “Deer,” bowing in the festival’s New Directors competition.

“In the last few years we’ve been producing in Gipuzkoa in a pretty stable fashion using the tax credits,” she added.

Basque producers can leverage tax credits on international co-productions. They can also look to Basque locations, argued Ana Ruíz at the Vitoria-Gasteiz Film Office. “Producers say they’re tired of shooting in the same locations. The Basque Country offers them the chance to discover new landscapes, and an extraordinary variety of them, in a short geographic space, from Medieval cities to coast, forests, mountains, vineyards and wine cellars.”

With the San Sebastian-based Ikusmira Berriak, San Sebastian Festival’s Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum and Glocal in Progress, a pix-in-post showcase for movies made in minority European languages, ever more windows are opening, allowing new directors and producers to present projects for international industry audiences.

“There’s a sense of momentum, and synergies, above all in Gipuzkoa, where the San Sebastian Festival, Tabacalera, and now Elías Querejeta Film School are creating a fertile ecosystem,” said producer Leire Apellaniz, at Sr. y Sra., whose anticipated “Advantages of Traveling By Train,’ directed by Aritz Moreno, will be co-produced by France’s Logical Pictures.

She added: “We’re becoming more ambitious, getting to be known more abroad. It’s natural, organic and logical that we’re not limiting ourselves to the Basque Country or Spain but linking to companies that can contribute anything from expertise to financing.”

“Producers want to address new issues, in new ways, without forgetting their roots, where they come from, Atorrasagasti argued. “That’s a natural evolution, seen in many sectors and very evident in the creative industries – wanting to move more globally,” agreed.

For Atorrasagasti, “We’re trying to evolve the paradigm in Basque production, towards a more European model.”

Challenges of course remain. Every co-production is different, said Irusoin’s Xabi Berzosa, producer with Moriarti of the milestone Basque productions “Loreak,” Spain’s Oscar submission, and “Handia,” which won 10 Spanish Academy Goyas. The challenge is for collaboration with international co-production partners to be as automatic as Irusoin’s partnerships in Spain, he added.

But the Basque Country has at least hit the co-production road.

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