“There have been absolutely no barriers in terms of language. In fact, it has opened doors”
Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.
Negu hurbilak is a film directed by Ekain Albite, Mikel Ibarguren, Adrià Roca and Nicolau Mallofré, a.k.a, ‘Colectivo Negu’, and coproduced by Maluta Films and Cornelius Films. The film was made entirely in Basque. It is the story of an escape framed in the context of the Basque conflict in the village of Zubieta. While Jone Laspiur plays the leading role, the remainder of the cast comprises Zubieta residents with no professional acting experience. The film was shot in analog 16mm.
Following three previous projects by Colectivo Negu – Erroitz, Uhara and Rabassa morta – Negu Hurbilak is their first feature film. The film was premiered at the 76th Locarno Film Festival, one of Europe´s most important A-list film festivals. The film also received a special mention from the jury in the ‘Cineasti del Presente’ section for new filmmakers.
Mikel Ibarguren (Zestoa, 1995) and Ekain Albite (Zumaia), two of the film’s directors, explain the details of the film and its creation process.
What sparked the idea to create the film?
Ekain Albite: It was born out of a need, the need to reflect and explore the times we lived in when we were young. Personally, 2011 caught me in the midst of my youth, so I always felt the need to know what happened at that time. Observing our surroundings, we became acutely aware of the wounds that people carried. Recognizing cinema´s capacity to delve into these wounds, we felt a strong sense of importance in contributing, in our own way, to addressing the significant wounds within the Basque Country. We noticed numerous challenging experiences among the Basque population, all shrouded in a profound silence. Our desire in the face of this was to break this great silence, that is, to knock at the door of a silence that had this great question mark.
The film never judges what is happening in Basque society. It does not provide a radical point of view, but rather reflects on the reasons for the situation we are currently experiencing. It was precisely around this question that the need to make the film arose. So, we started to unravel this thread.
Este es vuestro primer largometraje, ¿cómo ha sido el proceso?
E.A.: The process has transformed us. Considering we’re a group of beginners, we felt that making a film about such a complicated subject was a huge challenge. But we took it on and have tried to approach the subject as faithfully as possible, both with everyone who is part of our film and with ourselves. We’ve tried to be politically honest, asking lots of questions and above all listening to a lot of people.
Moreover, Zubieta and our experience there has totally transformed and the film itself. After spending two years immersed in Zubieta, getting to know the local lifestyle and experiencing an alternative perspective on the Basque Country, the profound sense of being Basque transformed us to the extent that we´ve evolved into different individuals. The film is also a reflection of this, and we’re proud of it. We´ve approached this journey with sincerity, bravery, and humility. In essence, the film mirrors our own experiences, and throughout this process, it´s been crucial that we´ve remained in constant motion.
The film was made entirely in Basque. How has this influenced the film´s global reception and presentation?
Mikel Ibarguren: We had no doubts about shooting the film in Basque: both Ekain and I are Basque speakers; we wanted to shoot the film in Zubieta, Navarra; the protagonist herself, Jone Laspiur, is also a Basque speaker. So, our decision to use our language was clear and authentic. In fact, when we start thinking about our future projects, we see ourselves maintaining a strong connection to the Basque Country and the Basque language. I think that Basque artists and creators have a responsibility to tell the story of our country in our own language.
At an international level, the use of the Basque language in the film is regarded as something "positive" and appealing. I believe it creates international opportunities because using our cherished, minority language in a film—Euskara is an unfamiliar tongue for many—works to our advantage in many ways. The Basque language, landscapes and culture featured in the film has attracted many people. We’ve been asked a lot about the film´s language and setting.
There have been absolutely no barriers in terms of language. In fact, it has opened doors. It has allowed us to seize opportunities and maintain authenticity while achieving international impact. Being in Locarno is an opportunity to advance the global presence of Basque cinema, and winning an award is a great opportunity to make our name known. We consider it a privilege to contribute, through Negu Hurbilak, to the promotion of Basque film productions that have gained momentum in recent years.
You have been at ´Work In Progress´ festivals before, but what was it like to take part for the first time in an international film event like the Locarno Film Festival?
E.A.: It was an amazing experience. We’d never been to a film festival like this before. While we´ve participated in smaller Work In Progress festivals before, this was our first presentation of the completed film to a larger audience. The process has been very rewarding, but it was also somewhat scary. From a film shared only with those close to us, it now becomes a public entity open to discussion by anyone. It’s an exciting process, but at the same time it carries a sense of apprehension.
And besides, it’s important to me that our film has an impact on society. It´s pretty amazing how we´ve managed to stir something inside people through our work. It means a lot to us to know that we´re making waves, especially with such a complex topic at this moment in time. The fact that there are supporters, critics, different viewpoints emerging all shows that the film is sparking conversations and stirring things up. That´s a positive outcome from our perspective.
How did earning a special mention from the jury affect you? Did you expect it?
M.I.: The film was made on a very low budget, quite possibly one of the smallest productions at Locarno. Taking this into account, it is a dream for us to be there, to premiere it in one of the best festivals in the world. When we got the call from the festival saying that the director had fallen in love with the film, we were blown away. We spent some wonderful days at Locarno. The festival treated the film with great affection and critics from around the world evaluated the film very positively. All of this has opened many doors for us.
When they called to tell us we were going to be given the award, we couldn´t believe it. We were competing with the world’s best and there were directors we loved among them. To have been judged so positively by a jury of an international festival meant a great deal to us. And this was just the beginning.
E.A.: The opportunity to be part of the Locarno Film Festival has been truly remarkable, but it was also a process that commanded our respect. But, we were genuinely amazed by the warm reception our film received, and receiving a special mention fills us with immense pride and excitement; it gives us the strength to continue working.
What lies ahead for the film?
M.I.: As I mentioned before, the film is very small and the production companies have approached us little by little. Now the distribution company and the company in charge of marketing has just started working with us. It is true that participating in Locarno has provided our work with support and recognition. We´ve now secured both the national and Catalan premieres for the film. Our focus now is on cultivating an extensive festival journey for the film, since a number of experts have said that it is well-suited for film festivals, so that’s what we’ll do. We’ll travel around the world to present, showcase and enjoy this feature film.
We´re also thinking about a cinema release. We do recognize that our work may not directly compete with more conventional films in the market – mainly because of our limited budget and comparatively smaller scale in terms of marketing and publicity efforts. That´s why our goal can’t possibly be to keep our film on the cinema circuit.
So, we will mainly be immersed in festivals. It will also be released in cinemas, while being very aware of the type of film it is, and the budget used to make it. Now is the time to enjoy the festivals, the journeys and the people.