Tag: basque films

The 2016 Bilbao Mendi Film Festival

This year’s Bilbao Mendi Film Festival kicked off on December 9 and runs through December 18. This is an annual festival that celebrates cinematic representations of mountains, mountaineering, hiking, climbing, skiing, adventure, exploration, extreme sports, and the great outdoors in general. Check out the trailer on the main website to get a flavor of what it’s all about.

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Basque-themed work appearing at the festival this year includes Akabuko Martxea, a documentary directed by Aitor Gisasola and Fredi Paia about efforts to recreate the tradition of sheep transhumance in herding sheep from the Urbia Mountains to the Uribe Kosta coastal district.

In the fall of 2015 two Gipuzkoan shepherds, Mikel Etxezarreta and Eli Arrillaga, spent five days herding 250 sheep from Zegama in Gipuzkoa to Getxo in Bizkaia. Their aim was to recreate the tradition of transhumance, a way of life that came to an end in the early 1980s. Indeed, Etxezarreta himself last carried out such a trek in 1982.

The Basque-made documentary, Kurssuaq. La exploración del Río Grande, will also be shown. We covered this amazing kayak expedition in a previous post here. Similarly, Humla, produced and directed by Mikel Sarasola, charts the adventures of four kayakers as they attempt to negotiate the mighty Humla Karnali, the longest river in Nepal.

The documentary Common Ground, meanwhile, charts the expedition of a group of climbers, including the brothers Iker and Eneko Pou from Vitoria-Gasteiz, to the remote Chukotka region of Siberia. In a similar vein, Eñaut Izagirre’s Incognita Patagonia, produced for National Geographic, covers a climbing expedition to the Cloue Icefield on Hoste Island, at the southern tip of Latin America.

Elsewhere, Jon Herranz directs Mar Alvarez No Logo, a documentary about woman firefighter and part-time climber, Mar Alvarez.

In somewhat of a different direction, Iker Elorrieta’s film I Forgot Myself Somewhere examines the challenges faced by women in northern Pakistan to get an education.

And Xabier Zabala’s Imaginador is a biography of photographer Santi Yaniz, famed for his work in the Basque Country and the Pyrenees.

See a full list of the films on show here.

Amazing Footage of Basque Kayak Expedition to Greenland

A trailer has just been released for a forthcoming documentary on a Basque kayak expedition to the Kurssuaq River (meaning “Big River” in the local Greenlandic Inuit language) in Greenland. Aitor Goikoetxea and Mikel Sarasola from Gipuzkoa, together with Fermín Pérez and Edu Sola from Navarre,  spent August and part of September this year in the little visited southwest corner of Greenland in search of challenging river descents.

This is, apparently, the first time such a descent has been attempted on this river by kayak. What’s more, following an unusually dry, mild, and warm spring and summer, water levels were particularly high with glacial run-off. Despite the potential hazards, the team opted for the biggest river of all, the Kurssuaq, and filmed the results for their forthcoming documentary. The actual descent involved a 12-day trek upriver before setting off.

Check out the amazing footage here:

The documentary will be released in 2017. Check out the team’s website here.

May 6, 1924: Cultural icon Nestor Basterretxea born

One of the towering figures–both literally and figuratively–of the Basque cultural world, Nestor Basterretxea, was born in Bermeo, Bizkaia, on May 6, 1924. Although renowned for his work in sculpture, alongside the two Basque giants of the art form, Jorge Oteiza (1908-2003) and Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002), Basterretxea distinguished himself in the Basque cultural arena for his wide and varied work in a number of different fields from painting and design to film making, as well as carving out a major commercial name for himself as an entrepreneur, and with his death at age 90 in 2014 he left a major legacy for Basque culture as a whole.

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Nestor Basterretxea at work. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Although born in Bermeo, he was forced to flee the Basque Country with his family during the Spanish Civil War. Finding refuge initially in France, the outbreak of World War II once more forced the family to flee, this time to Argentina. As a young man in Argentina, alongside his studies in industrial design he also took an interest in painting and worked initially in the advertising industry, drawing up designs for publicity campaigns as well as exhibiting some of his own paintings as well.

In 1951 he married Basque-Argentinian Maria Isabel Irurzun, and the couple went to live initially in Madrid. He became involved in the European cultural avant-garde of the 1950s, a member of the Equipo 57 (Team 57) experimental painters’ group, and eventually settled in Gipuzkoa in 1958. Thereafter, without giving up painting, he also began to study sculpture as he found in this a better means to express the concept of space.

In 1966, he was a founding member of the Gaur (Today) an avant-garde artistic group also including (among others) Oteiza, Chillida, Remigio Mendiburu (1931-1990), Jose Antonio Sistiaga (b. 1932), and Jose Luis Zumeta (b. 1939), which in its short but highly productive existence became a leading force for cultural change in the Basque Country, challenging entrenched ideas about art and aesthetics.

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Poster for the film Ama Lur (1968).

At the same time, Basterretxea was also taking an interest in film as another significant means of artistic expression. Together with filmmaker Fernando Larruquert (b. 1934) he made the documentaries Operación H (Operation H, 1963), Pelotari (1964), and Alquézar (1965). The two of them also later made their key work: Ama Lur (Mother Earth, 1968); a documentary film intended to celebrate the strength and resilience of Basque culture that faced multiple hurdles in overcoming the predominant censorship of the time in Franco’s dictatorship in Spain; and, incredibly, the first feature length film production produced and shot in the Basque Country since the Spanish Civil War.

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The iconic “Gurpilla” (Wheel) chair designed by Basterretxea in the 1960s.

Besides this artistic work in the fields of painting, sculpture, and film making, somewhat remarkably Basterretxea also found the time to create a business empire, designing tables, offices, chairs, couches, lamps, chimneys, bar furniture, and even a chess set for his company BIOK. He had actually been designing furniture since the late 1950s, first for the H Muebles company owned by a great Basque patron of the arts, Juan Huarte. Seeing a gap in the market for contemporary designed and Basque-made furniture, Basterretxea later set up BIOK and its showcase store Espiral with a group of investors, introducing, for example, the bestselling “Gurpilla” chair, based on a curved wooden design, in the mid-1960s.

Thereafter, he returned once more to strictly artistic pursuits, presenting arguably his most famous work, the Serie Cosmogonica Vasca (Basque Cosmogonic Series) in 1973. This was made up of 19 works, made in wood, showcasing Basque Mythology and included individual pieces like the goddess-like figure of Mari and Akelarre (Witches’ Coven). This collection is today housed in the Bilbao Fine arts Museum.

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Olatua (The Wave) in the port of Bermeo, Bizkaia. Photo by Telle. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After a brief spell as an art adviser to the newly implemented Basque government in the early 1980s, he continued to produce emblematic sculptures throughout that decade and into the 1990s and 2000s: these included the Bakearen Usoa (Dove of Peace) in Donostia; Solitude, the National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder in Reno; the monument to the Basque saint, Francis Xavier,  in Tokyo;  Goldea (The Plow) in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa; and the monument to the memory of the Basque sailors who died in the Battle of Matxitxako (near his home town of Bermeo) against Franco’s forces in March 1937.

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Monument to the fallen Basque sailors at the Battle of Matxitxako. Photo by Telle. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He won numerous prizes and awards throughout his long life and will be remembered fondly here at UNR, where his Orreaga held pride of place in the old Getchell Library before being rehoused in the new Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, as reported in an earlier post here.

Basterretxea’s work is discussed in both Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives by William Douglass and Joseba Zulaika (available free to download here) and Beyond Guernica and the Guggenheim: Art and Politics from a Comparative Perspective, edited by Zoe Bray. Be sure to check out, too, a couple of other publications by the Etxepare Basque Institute that talk about the influence of Basterretxea in different fields: Architecture and Design by Peio Aguirre (free to download here) and Basque Cinema by Joxean Fernández (available free to download here).

 

 

 

Jai Alai Blues: A New Documentary Film

Check out this teaser for the new documentary film Jai Alai Blues (2015), directed by Gorka Bilbao for Berde Produkzioak and released by Atera Films, which traces the rise and fall of jai alai in Miami and beyond.

Jai Alai Blues official website here.

Read a review for the film by Neil Young for The Hollywood Reporter here. In Young’s words, “As a lively slice of offbeat, exotic social history — whose second half concentrates squarely on the game’s checkered history in the United States — it appeals beyond the usual sports-doc demographic and should be checked out by festivals and channels specializing in non-fiction fare.”

If you’re interested in this subject, see, too, Michael J. Mooney’s in-depth article “Whatever Happened to Jai Alai?

And the Center has also published a couple of books that may be of interest:

Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic, by Olatz González Abrisketa. While more about the handball version of the sport than jai alai per se, this work does survey the different versions of pelota, as well as demonstrating just how intrinsic it is to Basque culture.

Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport, edited by Mariann Vaczi. This multi-authored study offers a wide-ranging series of perspectives on numerous sports, pelota included.

 

Aitaren etxea, Love in Times of Hatred: The Basque Country in the 50s in a New TV Show

Photo taken from the Eitb website.

Aitaren etxea (The father’s house) is a TV show set in the 50s in a small coastal Basque town that goes by the fictitious name of Etxegi. The idea behind the show is to portray how hard life was in the Basque Country after the Spanish Civil War. The impossible love story between the mayor’s daughter, Irene, and Martin, a country boy, will reflect the open wounds that still exist after the  fratricidal civil war between the “winners” and the “losers” in the conflict.

If you want to see the first episode (in Basque and some Spanish) click here. 

On a related theme, War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, explores the impact of war over a decade in Europe (including the Basque Country) in the 1930s and 1940s.

 

 

Donostia-San Sebastián Film Festival Kicks Off

September 18 sees the start of the 63rd Donostia Zinemaldia, the Donostia-San Sebastián Film Festival. This year’s edition sees the world premiere of eight movies, including Regression, directed by Alejandro Amenabar and starring Emily Watson and Ethan Hawke.

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The Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium in Donostia-San Sebastián, decorated to promote the 2014 Zinemaldia. Photo by Joxemai, via Wikimedia Commons

This year also promises to be an especially eclectic mix, with different festival sections include “Horizontes Latinos,” “Culinary Cinema,” “Savage Cinema,” and “New Japanese Independent Cinema.” In an interview with Basque daily Berria, festival director Jose Luis Rebordinos emphasizes this diversity, citing three examples of films showcasing this year: the surreal French film Evolution, the cool British black comedy High Rise (based on a novel by J.G. Ballard), and the Japanese children’s animation film Bakemono no ko / The Boy and The Beast. Moreover, Basque films on show this year include Amama (When a Tree Falls), Sagardoa bidegile (Cider Stories), Jai Alai Blues,  and Aitaren Etxea. And there will also be a screening of the Basque-themed French movie, Sanctuaire (Sanctuary).

“From art house to mainstream films, from indie to potential Academy-winning features, San Sebastian has it all,” according to Telefonica production chief Axel Kuschevatzky, quoted in Pamela Rolfe’s article in The Hollywood Reporter here.

If you’re interested in exploring more about Basque movies, check out Basque Cinema: An Introduction, by Jaume Martí-Olivella, for a good general overview of the development of Basque film-making. And for a more detailed study of the intersection between film and Basque culture, see The Basque Nation On-Screen: Cinema, Nationalism, and Political Violence, by Santiago de Pablo.

Song of the Basques: A New Documentary Film Coming in 2015

Song of the Basques is a forthcoming documentary film directed by Emily Lobsenz for Daggewood Films, whose timeline can be followed via Facebook here.

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Picture from Song of the Basques, courtesy of Emily Lobsenz

Emily will launch it during this year’s Jaialdi in Boise, Idaho, one of the largest Basque festivals in the world, at which the Center will also have a stand with its books on sale.

As Emily herself comments, “The film will then be in cinemas through Theater-On-Demand distributor called Gathr, which means, we screen in cinemas where audiences request us to come. We are hoping to connect with people who’d want to have the film in their local cinemas so that we can make every screening a special event.”

“We’ll partner with Shacksbury Cider among others for post-screening get togethers, a tasting, some pintxos or bertsolaris, maybe even recreate some Basque traditions in sitio as we did when we created a Basque Cider House at Txikito restaurant in March of this year.”

Here at the Center we’d like to congratulate Emily and director of photography Marcus Lehmann for what promises to be, judging by the tantalizing excerpts available to view now here, a wonderfully evocative portrayal of the residual strength of Basque culture.

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Picture from Song of the Basques, courtesy of Emily Lobsenz

In the film, Olatz González Abrisketa speaks about pelota, a game played all over Europe in the Middle Ages but which had a particular resonance in the Basque Country, where it became the national pastime. Indeed, there it came to be associated with the values that Basques themselves identified with as a people and culture. These ideas are explained in detail in Basque Pelota: A Ritual, an Aesthetic, her comprehensive ethnography of the sport.