When we talk about Basque cinema no single viewpoint is valid since there are too many different opinions on what being Basque means. It can be defined in terms of aesthetics, linguistic, territory, thematic or waves of filmmakers. However, we can now approach this difficulty with more certainty. After a long period of 16 years something amazing happened in 2005: Aupa Etxebeste! (T. Esnal / A. Altuna ) a film fully shot in Basque, produced in the Basque Country, premiered at the San Sebastian International Film Festival and shown commercially with relative success -distributed in several major Spanish cities, including Madrid or Barcelona-.
The amazing thing about this film is that it marked a point of inflection. Since 2005 an average of 3 films shot in Basque language have been commercially released.From 2005 to 2015 there have been a further 21 fictional feature films in this language and currently there are four films in post-production process, suggesting the recovery is still ongoing.
Nevertheless, it has to be pointed out the still present dislocation among national cultural production and the local audience. This is clearly reflected in the recent Basque film’s response, together with economic production constraints.From 2005 and 2015 the average attendance for a Basque-language movie has been around 20,000 viewers, far away from the 72,000 achieved by Aupa Etxebeste! or the internationally well-known film Loreak (FLOWERS, 2014).
The Paris Theatre, New York; (c) Variety
National audiovisual policy development
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 the 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.
Basque-language cinema, far from becoming established
There is a clear relationship between the implementation of a new film policy and the growth in the number of productions during the last decade, but Basque-language cinema has neither flourished nor become established. These good results just simply reflect a part of reality; in other words, the results of regulations implemented and agreements struck between the Basque Government and ETB from the beginning of the beginning of the century.
Over the last few years creating employment and training of professionals has been the priority; it has been a learning process also for creative people, policymakers and audience. This is borne out by the evolution in the production costs and funding models of films. In short: the foundations for the future have been put in place.
Nevertheless, the structure of the Basque audiovisual sector has yet to be consolidated in order to gain gain better production conditions. So, unless further working lines are designed, it is unlikely that this path embarked by Basque-language cinema can be maintained henceforth. These lines of work should be related to the funding of works (encouraging private investment), creating an audience, gaining visibility and showcasing home grown production.