Basque Country Consolidates As Fresh Talent Hub

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In recent years, Spain’s Basque Country has emerged as a hub for fresh talent, something that directors Mikel Gurrea (“Suro”), Estibaliz Urresola (“Cuerdas”) and Irati Gorostidi (“Contadores”) credit to robust mentorship programs, governmental financing campaigns and ever-maturing production and distribution initiatives as well as a tight-knit network of professionals woven into the fabric of the local industry.

It’s an enthusiastic approach that fervently boosts new talent by firmly betting on strong local stories with universal appeal. Short films by up-and-coming helmers have gained traction, “Cuerdas” winning a Rails d’Or at Cannes Critics Week this year, while feature-length ECAM Incubator Selection “Lullaby,” directed by Alauda Ruiz de Azúa, swept this year’s Malaga Film Festival, garnering rave reviews from critics and industry heavyweights.

Public-sector development initiatives such as the Ikusmira Berriak residency are integral to rise, create vast opportunities by providing mentorship, resources and space to fine-tune budding concepts.

“‘Cuerdas’ was financed by the Diputación de Álava, where I have my production company. With help from Álava, the Basque Government and Spain’s ICAA,” remarked Urresola

She went on: “In the case of the Basque Country, there’s also the part of Basque Public TV, and, in the case of short film broadcasting, the Kimuak catalog. I believe that these are several lines of action that [lead to] an ecosystem favoring the creation of this talent.”

“Another tool is everything that has to do with Kimuak, the distribution program for short films. They’ve been doing an amazing job for so many people in terms of distributing, making it possible for short films to be seen,” said Gurrea.

Kimuak, managed by the Basque Film Archive with support from Zineuskadi, is integral in championing the new generation, with a focus on showcasing Basque short films, the oft-preferred initiation route of new directors. 

Inclusion in the catalog is a mark of distinction that Gurrea, Urresola and Gorostidi share. The name, which translates as “sprout,” is fitting for an outfit that forges these projects through tough soil, into the far-flung cinematic atmosphere.

Partial credit to the San Sebastian Film Festival, as it acts as “a launchpad where the films are seen, something that I grew up with that gave me an insight into world cinema from a very early age, and made it approachable for me,” Gurrea commented. Its New Directors strand is a critical fest sidebar, highlighting budding creators.

The importance of close relationships within harmonious circles is equally crucial. “It’s been very important to generate networks, to get to know other people who may be from different disciplines,” said Gorostidi.

“My network is mainly in the Basque Country, including Navarre because Navarre’s very important to me, I was born there and a large portion of my colleagues and collaborators come from Navarre. There’s the Punto de Vista Festival, which has been very important in my career as a filmmaker. It’s been a place where I’ve discovered a type of cinema that’s inspired me a lot, many like-minded people,” Gorostidi added.

Perhaps the most obvious reason for the recent Basque buzz? The regional talent themselves, who create vastly appealing and ambitious cinema.  To ensure their forward trajectory, directors point to the maintenance of these programs and a push toward fixed and sustainable filmmaking models. An ask of lasting support and enthusiasm long after their debut efforts hit the festival circuit, allowing them to hone their craft without waning reception.

“You make a first film once, but then it needs to be sustainable so that you can make a second one, a third. You give your all in every aspect of making your first film. That’s a beautiful thing, but it’s not very sustainable. The rules of the game have to allow us to settle in and grow,” said Gurrea.

Urresola concluded, “In the end it is like sowing seeds, like an ecosystem, the forest, in the forest seeds constantly sprout. Talent has always been emerging, but if it doesn’t have enough light, if the soil doesn’t have enough nutrients, if it doesn’t rain, it won’t be able to flourish.”