From Arachnid Fuelled Sci-Fi to Heart-Pounding Airport Thrills, San Sebastian’s Diverse Basque Lineup

A salute to Basque cinema, the 71st edition of the San Sebastian Festival has once again unfurled its Zinemira section, a brainchild conceived in collaboration with the Basque government’s Department of Culture. Serving as more than just a showcase, Zinemira comes wrapped in the financial backing of sponsors Irizar and EiTB, with collaborative support from Urbil, the Basque Film Archive, EPE/APV, IBAIA, and Zineuskadi. The competition for the coveted Irizar Basque Film Award promises to be as strong as ever, drawing eligible feature films that meet a set criteria— namely, a 20% Basque production involvement, a Basque-language script, or a narrative focus on Basque communities. Not to be eclipsed, the section also lights up with the Kimuak programme, a curated selection of this year’s top Basque short films, giving them a passport to international acclaim. A rundown:

“Sultana’s Dream,” (“El sueño de la Sultana,” Isabel Herguera, Spain, Germany)

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The latest from “Unicorn Wars” producers Abano Producions and UniKo, joining El Gatoverde Producciones, Sultana Films and Fabian & Fred, a three-part animated feature, recounting the modern-day vicissitudes of a Spanish artist in India; the travails of real-life feminist thinker Rokeya Hossain; and  the story she published in 1905 about Ladyland, where women rule. Screening in main competition.

“Contadores,” (Irati Gorostidi)

The latest from rising Basque star Gorostidi, set in 1978 around collective bargaining for a new deal in Gipuzkoa’s metallurgical industry which served testimony to the splintering of the Basque Country’s labor movement. Selected for this year’s Cannes Critics’ Week.

“Mamántula,” (Ion de Sosa)

A surreal sexual arachnid sci fi, this 45-minute feature turns on a giant spider disguised as a human being set in “an alternate past of brutalist saunas, endless subway corridors and detectives with raincoats and hats,” its synopsis runs. One of the banner Basque titles at this year’s San Sebastian, from De Sosa, a partner at Apellaniz y de Sosa, and DP on Chema García Ibarra’s Locarno standout “Sacred Spirit.”

“Misión a Marte,” (Amat Vallmajor)

Produced by Vitrine Films, Muxika Zinema, Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola, and Mina Films. This tale follows unemployed Basque archaeologist, Txomin, and his ailing brother, Gene, on an imaginative journey to Mars. As they navigate familial tensions and mysterious challenges, old wounds resurface. Drawing inspiration from the director’s childhood memories and the impending end of the Basque punk generation, this film captures death, rebellion, and generational finiteness.

“20,000 Species of Bees,” (Estíbaliz Urresola)

A big winner at this year’s Berlinale, scooping a a Silver Bear winning best leading performance for Sofía Otero, and Berliner Morgenpost Readers’ Jury Award and the Guild Film Prize. Produced by Gariza Films, Urresola’s own Sirimiri Films and Barcelona’s Inicia Films, the feature turns on Lucía, an eight-year-old girl, who sometimes struggles as the world tries to catch up with the fact that she has a penis. As the summer holidays pass she explores her femininity alongside the women of her family who at the same time reflect on their own femininity.

“Arnasa Betean, emakume zinegileak,” (Bertha Gaztelumendi and Rosa Zufia)

A  dive into the world of Basque women filmmakers, this documentary explores their unique contributions to cinema through the lenses of history and present-day challenges. Guided by the underwater journeys of three free divers, it weaves through experiences and thoughts of 19 filmmakers, showcasing extracts from 43 films. Produced by San Sebastian-based Tentazioa, this tribute encapsulates the spirit of female cinematic visionaries and their enduring quest for recognition and equality.

“Mirande, film baterako zirriborroa,” (Josu Martínez)

Tackling the enigmatic mid-20th-century Basque writer Jon Mirande, this film grapples with a complex legacy. Celebrated for elevating the Basque language, Mirande’s reputation is marred by accusations of racism, pedophilia, and misogyny. Amid fiery debates surrounding his persona, this project seeks to unravel the man behind the controversy.

“Bidasoa 2018 – 2023,” (Fermín Muguruza)

Director Fermin Muguruza couldn’t have stronger words for President Macron. “The French government closed the natural border of the Bidasoa river and this has caused the death of 10 migrants. President Macron is a murderer”. This haunting documentary spotlights the tragic consequences of border closures. It chronicles the perilous journeys of immigrants, and the tragedies that can result. By highlighting activists from Harrera Sarea and Bidasoa Etorkinekin associations, the film humanizes the cold statistics, giving voice to the voiceless.

“Bizkarsoro,” (Josu Martínez)

Set in a fictional town, this evocative film weaves five true tales from 1914 to 1982, sourced from oral accounts and written narratives. It is director Martinez’s second film on show at this year’s festival alongside “Mirande.” It reflects the societal transformations of a 20th-century Basque town, and delves into linguistic evolution, cultural tenacity, and the enduring spirit of community resilience.

“Irati,” (Paul Urkijo)

Produced by Irati Zinema AI.E., Bainet Teknika, Ikusgarri Films, Kilima Media and La Fidèle Production. “Irati” dredges Basque mythology, set in the 8th-century Pyrenees. Director Paul Urkijo paints a medieval adventure-fantasy of courage, love, and duty. Released in Spain, 2023, it’s hailed by Filmax’s Ivan Diaz as looking “nothing short of spectacular,” with Filmax handling distribution.

Tetuán (Iratxe Fresneda)

Produced by Pimpi & Nella Films, Marmoka Films, and Arena Comunicación, all based in Spain. “Tetuán,” directed and written by acclaimed Iratxe Fresneda. A respected professor, writer, and critic, Fresneda’s works have garnered global accolades, “Tetuán” weighing in as the culmination of her “trilogía del registro”.

“Not Such an Easy Life,” (“Una vida no tan simple, Félix Viscarret)

Produced by Lamia Producciones and A Contracorriente Films from Spain. The drama navigates the complexities of parenthood and personal growth. Directed and penned by Viscarret, acclaimed for Goya and Malaga winning “Bajo las estrellas” and HBO series “Patria.” This film’s exploration of life’s intricacies also competed at the Málaga Festival, winning fans. Latido sells.

“Upon Entry,” (Alejandro Rojas)

Produced by Zabriskie Films, Basque Films, Sygnatia, and Upon Entry A.I.E. from Spain, “Upon Entry” proved a breakout hit at SXSW, taking viewers on a tense journey. A young couple travels from Catalonia to the U.S. for a brighter future, but are thrust into a strained nightmare as they are taken in for questioning within the airport. Directed with a sharp eye on contemporary issues, this thriller delves deep into relationship dynamics and U.S. immigration policies. International sales are handled by Charades.

“Las buenas compañías,” (Silvia Munt)

Set in 1977, Munt’s narrative unfolds as young Bea’s feminist activism intertwining with unexpected romance. Amidst a country in transformation, Bea’s burgeoning love with Miren reveals secrets that force her into adulthood. A tough honouring of togetherness.  Produced by Basque outfit Irusoin and Antonio Chavarrías’ Oberón Media, two top Spanish independents, this poignant tale of passion and change is sold by Filmax.


“Illustrated Woman,” (“La mujer ilustrada, Isabel Herguera)
Herguera, a pioneering figure in Spanish animation, ventures into Ahmedabad, blending animation workshops with the dreams of Mehndi tattoo artists. Renowned for her globe-trotting academic engagements and artistry, Herguera’s work often finds inspiration in India, from where her San Sebastian main competition entry, “Sultana’s Dream”, originates.

“Swift,” (“Sorbletza, Iban del Campo)
A compelling 16-minute Basque narrative, spotlighting a couple’s unconventional method to confront their relationship woes: Inviting a sleeping beauty onboard their sailboat, in hopes of alleviating their insomnia. Produced by Limbus Filmak, this short delves into love, intimacy, and unconventional healing.

Prioridades,” (Tamara Lucarini Cortés)

An evocative 18-minute short. Ane and Andrea lose themselves in their bedroom’s sanctuary, as the world continues outside.From writer-director Lucarini Cortés, the film delves deep into moments of intimacy, laughter and vulnerability amidst sweltering heat. A production by Katz Estudio and Sayaka Producciones, it captures the essence of seizing the moment until outside intervention becomes inevitable. Currently distributed in Spain.

Deadly Draw,” (Nitya López)
A gripping 10-minute Spanish short film, thrusting viewers into a world of suspense and moral dilemmas. As Caroline tensely observes the world outside, an unexpected visitor, Nathan, her husband, returns, intensifying her fears. At the heart of their conflict is a winning lottery ticket, ominously connected to a tragic accident. A poignant exploration of fate and choices.

El aprendíz,” (Raúl Campos)
Beginning his journey as a novice phone repairman, the protagonist is consumed by hopes and dreams of his future. Yet, a discovery in a customer’s phone shatters his expectations, prompting a profound reflection on his perspective of the world. Campos takes the helm as director and co-writer, alongside Raquel Perea, with the combined backing of “The Platform’s” Basque Films and ECPV. The narrative masterfully weaves a tale of immigration, dreams, and the unforeseen lessons life offers.

The Monkey,”  (“Ximinoa” Itziar Leemans)
The tale of June’s summer job with Constance, a girl craving affection. Directed and penned by Itziar Leemans, this story showcases a deep bond’s evolution and its juxtaposition with the stark reality of class relations and identity denial. Supported by Gastibeltza Filmak and Al Borde Films.

“El rey de la semana,” David Pérez Sañudo)

“El rey de la semana,” by Pérez Sañudo, famed for his feature debut, “Ane is Missing,” turns on the life of Martín, a meticulous 33-year-old cosmetics worker. Post-divorce loneliness drives him to a seduction workshop. When Marta enters his life, his newfound skills are put to the test, making her his ultimate pursuit.

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