Film and Civil War in the Basque Country

On the 75th anniversary of the Gernika bombing

Studies of films made during the Civil War in the Basque Country took a great leap forward with the publication of Tierra sin paz. Guerra Civil, cine y propaganda en el País Vasco (Land without peace. Civil War, film and propaganda in the Basque Country, Biblioteca Nueva, Madrid, 2006). Santiago de Pablo, professor at the University of the Basque Country, put order in many aspects as yet disordered and shed light on many others still in the dark. Outstanding among these was the work of the Basque Government presided by José Antonio Aguirre. The unquestionable peculiarities of the Civil War in the Basque region are largely related to the importance of the part played by the Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ/PNV). The Basque Country had no social revolution, religious persecution or revolutionary justice, to a great extent because the PNV was conservative, Catholic and endeavoured to promote a certain amount of humanitarian behaviour in the prevailing ocean of cruelty. The predominance of nationalists in the Basque Government of national unity formed in October 1936 marked each of its activities, including those related to cinematic propaganda. Important effort was made from Barcelona and Paris to create a team for this purpose: this was a team of few people, extraordinarily active in their work and not devoid of the talent required to make appropriate films in the international context of the time. All of these people paid for their commitment with exile.

It is true that the films arrived when the war was almost lost. Entierro del benemérito sacerdote vasco José María de Korta y Uribarren, muerto en el frente de Asturias (Funeral of the distinguished Basque priest José María de Korta y Uribarren, killed on the Asturian front, 1937) and Semana Santa en Bilbao (Easter in Bilbao, 1937) are two brief documentaries striving to demonstrate that the Basques were fervent Catholics and that there was no contradiction between their fighting on the side of the Republic and their religious faith.

Guernika (1937) arrived from Paris. There, the director Nemesio Sobrevila, leading figure of Basque Government cinematic propaganda, edited the images received from different sources to create a thrilling multifaceted project. The idea was that, thanks to Guernika, Europe would learn about the Nazi bombing of the Basque city and see the horror of war on the screen.

Sobrevila focussed his attention on Basque children in a short entitled Elai-Alai (1938), of which only jumbled sequences remained until research carried out by Santiago de Pablo made it possible to locate a complete negative of the film, lasting for 23 minutes, at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris.

Others remained unfinished or at the project stage, but the opportunity to see all those completed, together, in a single session, holds an interest stretching far beyond the strictly cinephile: these are documents of unique value for our history and represent the obligatory recognition of those who made them.

Joxean Fernández
The Basque Film Library

Film: Film and Civil War in the Basque Country

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