Basque cinema is booming, and director Asier Altuna is part of the vanguard leading it forward. The Spanish filmmaker, behind 2005 Youth Award winner “Aupa Etxebeste!” and 2015 Best Basque Film “Amama” at the San Sebastián Intl. Film Festival, attended this year’s Ventana Sur Proyecta sidebar with his next project, “Karmele, the Hour of Waking Together.”
The project is a cinematic adaptation of the novel “The Hour of Waking Together” by Kirmen Uribe, itself based on a true story, winner of the 2016 Critics Prize for Basque literature and best book of the year according to the Basque Academy.
Turning on titular character Karmele Urresti, the film kicks off as Franco’s forces are fighting their way across Spain in the mid ‘30s. Although most of her friends and family flee when the Civil War reaches the Basque Country, Karmele stays to care for the wounded and to try and free her father from incarceration.
It’s only after the war’s end, when Franco’s dictatorship begins, that the young dissident decides to leave Spain and settle in France, working for the Basque Cultural Embassy in exile. There, she meets and marries Basque musician Txomin and the two travel Europe together.
As France falls to the Nazis in World War II, Karmele is forced into exile once again, this time fleeing to Venezuela. There, Txomin joins the Basque Secret Service and returns to Spain as a spy. When Txomin runs into trouble, Karmele is forced, yet again, to uproot and move back to Venezuela, this time on her own, hoping that she can one day reunite those from her family who have survived Franco’s oppressive reign.
“When I started reading Kirmen’s book ‘Time to Wake Up Together,’ I felt that the Urresti Letamendi’s family’s story was perfect for making a great film. It is written in a highly visual manner and has very cinematographic components: war, music, spies, clandestine activity, prison, death, exile,” explains Altuna in his director’s notes.
He goes on to say, “At the same time, and above all, it is a story about characters. It is the story of a family expelled from its homeland, pursued and persecuted because of a war.”
The film’s overarching plot seems a bit dour when laid out, but promotional materials promise that “This is a film of contrasts. On the one hand there is war, arms, hate, darkness, hunger, prison, fleeing, clandestine activities, torture… But on the other hand, there is music, the trumpet, jazz, freedom, love, light, the Caribbean, color and heat.”
“Karmele” is a Spain-France co-production led by Marian Fernández Pascal of Txintxua Films and Altuna’s Karmele Films, in co-production with Bainet Teknika and Gastibeltza Filmak. One goal of the visit to Buenos Aires is to find a Latin American co-producer to aid in the parts of the film shot in Venezuela.
Over the next year and a bit more, Altuna will continue to work on the script while his producers look for partners, financing, locations, a sales agent and distribution, in the hope of shooting in 2022 for a 2023 release.