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Is there a real flowering of Basque-language cinema?

In the run up to the European Screens conference, MeCETES has invited speakers to write a blog on their conference paper. Here, Miren Manias examines the role of film policy in the revival of Basque-language cinema.

It was in 1989 when the last film fully shot in the Basque-language was screened at commercial cinemas. Ke arteko egunak (1989) attracted an audience of 51,600 people. But Basques would have to to wait another sixteen years for the next Basque-language film to come along.

In 2005, Aupa Etxebeste! had an audience of 72,000. It was also the first Basque-language movie to distributed in several major Spanish cities, including Madrid or Barcelona. From 2005 to 2015, there have been a further 21 fictional feature films in the Basque-language, an average of two per year. There are currently four Basque-language films in post-production process, suggesting the recovery is still ongoing.

Flowers

Loreak/Flowers (2014) – the first Basque-language film to be selected for competition at the San Sebastian International Film Festival

The current revival of Basque cinema – in both Spanish and the Basque language – even exceeds levels of production seen in the 1980s, when the film sector was enjoying a period of prosperity thanks to new public intervention. What is more, the success of the film Loreak/Flowers (2014) – the first Basque-language film to be selected for competition at the San Sebastian International Film Festival, nominated for the Best Film Award in the Spanish Goya’s, and selected as the Spanish representative for the Oscars’ Foreign Language Best Film Award – suggests Basque language cinema is not only enjoying higher level of production but also greater critical acclaim for its quality. But is this merely a coincidence?

Recent Basque film policy

The revival of Basque language cinema has its roots in a series of recent policy developments. In 2002, the first Contract Programme was signed between Basque Government and EiTB (Public Basque Radio-Television) to assume a commitment towards the Basque audiovisual production sector for a period of four years (2002-2005). The Contract Programme, based on the EU’s principles for Public Service Broadcasting, helped to ensure greater presence of the Basque-language within overall media output, support for national cinema and Basque audiovisual production. This agreement has been renewed afterwards in 2006, 2007-2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016-2019.

In 2003, the Basque Audiovisual White Paper outlined plans for the development of tax incentives for cinema, better TV drama production, the creation of training programmes for professionals and the improvement of working conditions in the audiovisual sector. Following the White Paper, the Basque Plan for Culture was designed in order to determine the future lines of promotion for the sector’s activity. Meanwhile, the two associations of Basque audiovisual producers (EPE-APV and IBAIA) and ETB reached an agreement so that Basque Public TV would guarantee its participation in the production of at least two Basque-language films per year. Since then the commitment has been annually extended.

Finally, in 2007 the Basque Government introduced the Funding Act (107/2007) for audiovisual production with an annual budget of 1.5 million, although funding was removed in 2013.

Promotion and audience participation

Despite these interventions, Basque-language cinema is still far from established. While Basque-language films continue to do well at international film festivals, many perform badly at the box office, with average admissions of 23,000 per film (see table 1). This is partly because Basque-language filmmakers and producers face serious promotion difficulties due to a lack of managerial structures and knowledge, economic constraints and personnel. There also seems to be a dislocation the Basque-language community and its cultural production.

Film policy has done much to revive the production of Basque-language cinema. But there are still weaknesses within the sector which need to be addressed in the future.

Miren Manias recently completed a Ph.D. in Communication and Film Studies at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). She will be joining the Centre for Cultural Policy Research (CCPR), University of Glasgow, as a Basque Visiting Fellow in September 2016. Her research interests include culture and communication policies, with a stress on film production and the protection of small cinemas.

 

Table1. Basque-language Film, Box office and Distribution Company (2005-2014)

Film title Year Attendance Box office (€) Distribution Company
Aupa Etxebeste! 2005 71,972 341,504 Barton Films
Kutsidazu bidea, Ixabel 2006 45,539 212,724 Orio produkzioak
Eutsi! 2007 26,463 126,766 Barton Films
Ander 2009 655 2,828 The society comunicacion
Sukalde kontuak 2009 4,996 27,183 Barton Films
Zorion perfektua 2009 6,282 33,682 Barton Films
80 egunean 2010 22,177 122,415 Barton Films
Izarren argia 2010 25.228 133,876 Barton Films
Zigortzaileak 2010 4,513 18,532 Alokatu
Urteberri on, Amona! 2011 31,745 177,531 Barton Films
Bi anai 2011 3.477 19,057 Orio produkzioak
Arriya 2011 11,704 59, 324 Alokatu
Bypass 2012 39,009 184,448 Barton Films
Baztan 2012 14,941 93,944 Lazo Visual
Dragoi ehiztaria 2012 30,442 126,328 Barton Films
Amaren eskuak 2013 6,401 30,123 Barton Films
Alaba zintzoa  2013 1,165 5,948 Barton films
Loreak 2014 49,873 264,914 A contracorriente films (Barcelona)
Lasa eta Zabala 2014 64,377 325,936 Barton Films
Txarriboda 2015 2,507 12,397 Barton Films
Amama 2015 43,973 227,214 Golem Distribucción
 

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