With Carlota Pereda’s ‘The Chapel,’ Paul Urkijo’s ‘Irati,’ Genre Cinema Gets a Boost in the Basque Country

Spain’s Basque Country, an ever-evolving film hub, continues to see a consolidation of talent driven by an animation boom alongside an increase in the production of ambitious genre cinema, marked by the colossal success of recent projects on streaming platforms and pick-ups by labs and festivals.

As San Sebastian unspools, the sequel to “The Platform,” the second most watched non-English Netflix movie in the streamer’s history, is in production in the Basque Country, produced by Carlos Juárez at Basque Films. Director Paul Urkijo, who opened the Fantastic Pavilion, heads to the fest to screen“Irati,” which has broken box office records for a Basque film and continues its prize trawl at festivals.

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Spanish helmer Carlota Pereda’s follow-up to “Piggy,” “The Chapel” was produced in the region by Filmax and the Basque Country’s Bixagu, co-founded by producer Iñaki Gómez and amusing and intimate short effort “Priorities,” (“Prioridades”) from writer-director Tamara Lucarini Cortés, has gone through the region’s Noka lab, alongside other burgeoning talents Estibaliz Urresola (“Cuerdas”) and Nitya Lópe (“Deadly Draw).”

“There’s a new generation of creators who are attracted to genre. At first it might seem more niche, but it has great fan potential that feeds back to the fact of having communities that can grow a lot,” Juárez tells Variety. “Directors like Alex De la Iglesia helped focus on this genre when he directed ‘Acción Mutante’ in Bilbao, with this film it was possible to see that another type of cinema could be made, and made popular. Another reason is surely that fantastic film festivals later emerged throughout the territory, so that these groups could feed each other and connect with other similar spaces internationally, creating networks,” he added.

“I think that those of us who do genre now are a generation that grew up in the ‘80s, a time in which, internationally, there was an explosion of genre in all media (cinema, comics, literature, television). In my case, I do fantasy because it’s what I’ve learned since I was a child and it’s what I like. Especially delving into the mythological stories of our land,” Urkijo muses. “The establishment of the infrastructure of the Basque film industry, for which we’re all responsible, gives rise to being able to be more ambitious when it comes to producing more complex films at the level of staging.”

All credit the mysticism tied to the region’s backdrop, a budding and competitive industry, financial incentives, the talent of creatives in the region and an overwhelmingly inviting culture.

“The Basque Country has always been a hotbed of fantasy. It’s nourished by its rich folklore, climate, landscape and its language. Pedro Olea, Álex de la Iglesia, Alice Waddington, Koldo Serra, Ivan Zulueta and Paul Urkijo, even Erice himself, all play with fantastical elements in aesthetics and the creation of atmospheres. As artists, we’re children of our experiences and our culture influences the creation of a sensitivity. I believe that in our collective subconscious, the North is associated with magic, fantasy and mythology,” Pereda told Variety.

“There’s something in its landscapes, traditions and folklore that’s associated with the Western imagination of the fantastic and that is local enough to give it a unique personality, avoiding clichés. It’s a place where ancient culture coexists with modernity, and that fits very well with the genre,” she added.

“The Basque culture and its language, Euskera, have preserved roots and a mysticism linked to the land. Their customs and legends are impregnated with magic. The myths that have been transmitted orally continue to live among us. I think all of this is in the new current genre narrative proposals. That in some atavistic way they’re connected with that magic, aesthetically, in locations, but especially if the text is in Basque, since the language itself is the instrument that our ancestors used to describe the world as they saw it when they believed that magical deities populated the earth,”says Urkijo.

He adds: “If you tell a mythological story in Basque, the language is an alchemical catalyst, which connects you with that arcane vision, causing the fantastic tale spell to activate and the epiphanic invocation to be performed successfully.”

Not only are the locations steeped in lure and lore, they’re accessible and accommodating.

“The Basque Country is a huge set located in Spain and also in France, with all kinds of landscapes, cities, architectures, towns, with green mountains, forests, beaches, waves, rivers, deserts and technical infrastructures, all brought together in a distance that we can travel in less than an hour,” Gómez opines.

Gómez also believes that “in Euskadi, there’s a lot of talent, the public sphere is invested in supporting the world of short films where new creators and technicians have emerged, which has led to a renewal with very ambitious professionals. This, together with good film schools, results in a great future for the sector.”

Lucarini Cortés agrees, pointing to her experience within the region’s cinematic ecosystem. “Having been at Noka Labs with my previous project ‘El Peso’ has given me many tools for subsequent projects. We must also take into account the existing programs and laboratories in the community that allow you to create a project accompanied from the first steps. In the case of ‘Prioridades,’ it was the Aukera program, carried out by the association of women filmmakers Hemen, and its mentors that accompanied us in the first phases.”

She adds that, “the sum of talent along with highly valuable professional equipment” were vital and remarks that productions should continue towards supporting, “the diversity of points of view and the desire to narrate from there.”

Robust funding in the region also makes the region a viable and attractive option for genre production.

“Tax breaks facilitates the incorporation of important private investors and the policies of aid for writing, development and production, together with the commitment of public broadcaster EITB MEDIA with the Basque film sector, make the Basque Country a very attractive place to produce films of any genre, including of course animation,” Gómez told Variety,” while also crediting the incorporation of the global streamers into the Spanish market.

“The tax relief is very attractive when it comes to attracting investment for genre films, whose budgets are usually higher due to the complexity they entail. On the other hand, there’s the technical-artistic infrastructure with extensive experience in the sector, widely demonstrated in films such as ‘Handia,’ ‘Erremetari’ or ‘Irati.’ Our territory also has impressive places to set a fantastic story: Natural spaces such as forests, mountains and caves as well as ancient architecture that’s very interesting when it comes to proposing a genre story, historical or not,” Urkijo adds.

Juárez concluded that Basque Films “plans to continue working from our region now it’s much easier with the entry of the platforms, although we don’t forget that centralism makes it easier to produce in Madrid and Barcelona by concentrating the whole industry there. In Euskadi, we still have to improve the issue of filming infrastructure and, more importantly, forge good communication with the places where the state industry is concentrated.”

Urkijo and Pereda both remark that, for them, future filming in the region is a no-brainer, with Pereda eyeing a possible relocation.

“My experience has been so good that I’m looking forward to repeating it. There’s something about the locations, nature and the light that I find very suggestive. You place the camera and you already have almost 40% of the shot resolved,” Pareda stated.

She concluded, “the fantastic is a language and the Basque team, so accustomed to productions of this type, speaks it perfectly.”

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