Tabling straightforward simple stories and experimenting with new narratives, the newest wave of Basque film talents has started to dip their toe into the international scene, landing at movie launchpads such as Venice, Berlin and San Sebastian festivals.
The new generation addresses universal issues telling small, local stories, attaining quality standards thanks in part to studies in Spain and quite often at film schools in Europe and the U.S..
The newest directors are emerging at a moment when SVOD giants and private investors are broadening the range of financing possibilities as co-production options, especially with the rest of Spain, are expanding.
“We come from disparate life experiences and we have very different paths, which greatly enriches the current Basque film scene,” says filmmaker Maider Oleaga.
“This is an ambitious generation in the sense that it face without fear the challenge of being faithful to the creative spirit of their projects,” argues Jara Ayúcar, Basque Audiovisual Coordinator and Communication.
Eyeing feature debuts or sophomore projects, among current standout moves by Basque emerging talents figure:
*A prominent member of the newest film wave, Mikel Gurrea, whose short “Foxes” won at the Montreal World Film Fest, has just featured at the Venice Festival’s Horizons sidebar with short “Heltzear” and finished in August lensing his feature debut, “Suro.”
*Maider Oleaga, winner of Doc España at the Valladolid Intl. Film Festival with “Verabredung” in 2017, world premieres at San Sebastian her feature documentary “Kuartk Valley,” vying for the Zinemira’s Irizar Basque Cinema Award.
*Estibaliz Urresola, who caught attention with her short “Adri” and her debut doc “Voces de Papel,” is prepping “20,000 Species of Bees.” It is scheduled to roll next year, after being selected at Madrid’s The Screen – La Incubadora and winning the Thessaloniki Intl. Film Festival Co-Production award and Tallinn Black Nights’ best cinematographic script.
*Bilbao-born David Pérez Sañudo, one of Spain’s most exciting up-and-coming filmmakers after his “Ane Is Missing” debut – he won a 2021 Spanish Academy Goya Award for best adapted screenplay – is teaming with Atresmedia Cine for film project “Cava dos fosas” and also with the Seville-based La Claqueta and top Basque company Irusoin to direct a movie adaptation of the acclaimed novel, “Los últimos románticos.”
*Paul Urkijo, whose 2017’s debut “Errementari” was godfathered and produced by Álex de la Iglesia and sold by Filmax, is initiating principal photography on medieval fantasy “Irati,” produced by Ikusgarri Films, backed by nationwide pubcaster RTVE.
*Navarre-born Maddi Barber will direct part of the literary-film project “This Is Not a Poem,” produced by Cáceres-based Garde Films, after showcasing at San Sebastian’s Zabaltegi-Tabakalera the doc “Land Underwater” in 2019. The same section showcased two more of her works: 2018’s “Above 592 Meters” and 2020’s “Gorria.”
In many cases, new Basque filmmakers share spaces, knowledge and experiences via a context that allows them to continue growing and learning.
Under the auspices of entities such as San Sebastian Film Festival, short-film collection Kimuak and the Tabakalera International Center for Contemporary Culture, initiatives have been launched such as Ikusmira Berriak, a project-based training-residence program, and the Elías Querejeta ZineEskola film school.
“There are many collectives, initiatives, producers and institutions working for a nurturing environment so that a new generation of filmmakers can grow,” points out Mikel Gurrea, whose feature debut “Suro” was developed at Ikusmira Berriak.
For years, the Basque Country has been marked by a conflictive political and social history, reflected in film. But “Loreak,” Spain’s 2016 Oscar submission, proved a game-changer.
“Fortunately, in recent years film’s concepts have multiplied and there are filmmakers making and premiering very diverse films,” Oleaga says.
“We share a search for different ways of narrating, sometimes from documentary, experimental film or fiction,” argues Barber.
What the newest generation does often have in common is an aim to reflect people’s interactions with the natural environment. In her works, for example, Barber charts man’s vestigial and ambivalent relationship to nature in Navarre’s Pyrenees.
“I’m interested in paying attention to stories of coexistence between human beings, their environment and other species. And from there, create other narratives beyond anthropocentric stories,” Barber adds.
In Gurrea’s thriller “Suro,” expecting their first child, a couple – played by “Antidisturbios’” Vicky Luengo and Pol López (“Historias lamentables”) – decides to move from the city to the forest to reactivate a cork tree business.
A co-production between Irusoin, Barcelona’s Lastor Media and Malmo Pictures, “Suro ” filmed in the north of Girona, in Catalan and Castilian, Spanish, French and Arabic.
“The more specific and palpable the world and the relationships a film presents, the more honest and empathetic its look will be. Thus the experience of seeing it is universalized. That works in all directions,” Gurrea explains.
Co-produced by Bilbao-based Kubelik Films and Madrid’s Pantalla Partida, Oleaga’s feature doc “Kuartk Valley,” which plays this years Zinemira Aat San Sebastian, combines universal and local elements. Its peculiarity lies in the story it unveils: two men from Alava’s Kuartango Valley making a Western movie (“Algo más que morir”) with the help of their community.
Produced by Lara Izagirre at Gariza Films, alongside Urresola-owned Sirimiri Films, “20,000 Species of Bees” revolves around gender identity, an issue which Urresola explored in her previous works.
“Local does not necessarily have to be at odds with universal. Looking to the local for stories that connect us all, it can create an added value in these times of globalization when audiovisual content is massively consumed and geo-political barriers more easily crossed,” Urresola argued.
Emerging Basque talents also show a stronger than ever commitment to projects’ international reach from the very beginning.
“In the current context, where more and more international writing labs are springing up and there’s greater flexibility in contact with people around the world in creative processes, all this is affecting the kind of stories we create and there is a more international look since the genesis of the project,” she says.
“From the beginning, we saw that we had to open ourselves to the international market and take the project to the world. That’s why we aim to attend Berlinale 2022, trying to close international distribution deals. Since our plan is to reach A grade festivals, we are looking towards the world,” concludes Gariza producer Lara Izagirre.