In the last few years, Basque cinema has been gaining momentum both nationally and internationally, with movies such as “To Say Goodbye“, “Gartxot“, “Zuretzako“, or the new documentary about the Basque conflict, “Gazta Zati Bat“.
Next month, the latest film by director Iñaki Elizalde, “Baztan”, will open in Spanish movie theaters on Friday, October 5th.
“Baztan” tells the story of a film crew that moves into the secluded valley of Baztan (Navarre) to make a movie about dark hidden events that took place in the early seventeenth century. While filming the movie and sharing life on a daily basis, some actors discover that racial discrimination is still present in the valley ten centuries later. It is a story about people and characters like Joxe (Unax Ugalde), a young man who rebels against the discrimination he and his ancestors have been suffering for years, just for being Agotes.
Iñaki Elizalde is a director, scriptwriter and film editor of the following short films: Gernika, Agurra, Patesnak a story of Christmas, Lorca, The oblivion of the memory. He is the recipient of more than 20 national and international awards. Among other things, he’s involved with Pausoka‘s production for ETB.
The movie will compete with nine other Basque productions for the Serbitzu Award given by the San Sebastian Festival, and Michel Gaztambide, writer of “Baztan”, will receive the prize awarded by the Festival Zinemira and associations producers EPE / APV and IBAIA for his incredible trajectory of a prominent personality of Basque cinema.
Bea Echeveste, who is part of the translation team for the movie, got me in touch with the director and he agreed to answer a few questions for A Basque in Boise. (The original interview in Spanish can be found here).
Q. What sparked the idea for “Baztan”? Why did you choose the Valley of Baztan to film the movie?
Iñaki Elizalde. The proposal came from Mikel Pruaño, resident of Baztan and producer of the movie. For some time now, certain people had been wanting to tell the story of the Agotes; who they were, how the turned up in the Valley of Baztan, and why the suffered as much as they did. They were looking for normal and humble work. A project that would come close, as much as possible, to the reality of their history.
Q. I read that initially you lacked the financial resources needed to shoot the movie but you decided to go forward. How does one overcome such an obstacle to make his dream a reality?
A director might propose the approach to a story, but the story does not exist until a producer fights to carry it on. The story unfolds during two narrative moments. Initially we shot the moment that takes place at the beginning of the 17th century. We found some help to get it produced and, with a lot of work and some loses, we were able to make it.
After this material was edited, we looked for financing to shoot the second moment, the one that takes place in the present. Several organizations joined the project, as well a television channel and some private producers that believed in the project.
Q. Other than financing, what were the biggest obstacles you faced while filming this movie?
I wouldn’t talk about obstacles but difficulties when it comes to making the necessary elements of an entire shooting fit together so it works seamlessly. Baztan was not an easy project, especially during the shooting of the first part, when we had to ‘face’ the physical side of the valley. It rained almost non-stop making the filming difficult in every sense, from getting images to accessing the locations where we wanted to shoot.
On the other hand, the movie script required that we filmed in a variety of spaces within a short period of time, which involves moving an entire camara crew.
Finally, it was essential that the people of Baztan got actively involved in the shooting, which means interfering in the lives of people with set habits, certain work schedules and who, in a way, didn’t know what was going on.
Q. “Baztan” has several professional actors, such as Carmelo Gómez, Unax Ugalde, Txema Blasco, Kandido Uranga or Joseba Apaolaza, however, most of the cast is made up of locals, with no experience in front of the cameras. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with amateur actors?
The first thing that got my attention – and still does – is how naturally this ‘human group’ handled being in front of the camera. They showed none or almost no agitation, as if they possessed a special gift to face new challenges in their lives.
The disadvantages, at least initially, are clear. With such a large crew of amateur ‘actors’, the mechanics of the work weren’t always easy. For example, they found it difficult to walk to a mark or look towards a specific place. In this sense, we had to explain many times the dynamics of a shooting. On the other hand, they devoted themselves to their characters like children on Christmas morning opening presents. In this sense, it worked out fine leading them into a world completely unknown to them in order to achieve the results we wanted.
Q. If I’m correct, the movie will be shown in September at the San Sebastian International Film Festival and will open on October 5. I understand too that the movie might be also shown in other countries. What can you tell me in this regard?
The movie will be shown in several festivals not yet determined. Similarly, the commercial distribution of the movie is still being negotiated.
Q. This has been a two-year adventure. I know it’s going to be hard to choose but, what was the most special moment for you?
It’s difficult to pinpoint a single experience. However, if I must do so, I remember fondly the mornings during the four months I lived in the valley, before writing the script. I would wake up every day to a valley surrounded by fog and, around nine, grandpa Pedro Mari Quevedo would come get me. We’d walk for hours and he taught me to understand the valley of Baztan.
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