Deep and strong like the roots of a beech, Amama is a beautiful journey from the heart of the baserri, the ancestral cradle of the Basque culture, where home and work share the same space linked to tradition.
Rooted in reality but delving into the fable just enough, the third feature film by Basque filmmaker Asier Altuna explores the challenges faced by a family across generations. The old and the new is exemplified in the relationship between a father who clings to the past and a daughter who looks to the future.
Amama shows Altuna’s great cinematic maturity. “Cinema is life for me,” he says. “Films made in euskara, a language spoken by very few people… in recent years it has led to the birth of a new cinema that, although small, it is quality cinema with a very direct way of telling.”
With the occasion of Amama’s screening in San Francisco, the filmmaker answered us some questions while he was attending the San Sebastian Film Festival, where last year he won the Irizar Award for best Basque film.
‘Amama: When a Tree Falls’ screens September 29 at Roxie Theater as part of the 8th Cine+Más San Francisco Latino Film Festival (http://www.roxie.com/ai1ec_event/sf-latino-film-festival-amama-tree-falls/), October 6 at University of San Francisco (https://myusf.usfca.edu/calendar), and October 7 at South San Francisco’s Basque Cultural Center (http://www.sfbcc.us/e280/Basque-Film-Series). Asier Altuna himself will attend the latter two screenings.
How was the story Amama born? Where did your inspiration come from?
I always wanted to make a movie that took place in a baserri [Basque traditional home], probably because it is where I was born and where I lived until I was 20. Even so, I borrowed the main plot of Amama from Kirmen Uribe’s poem “Maite zaitut, ez” [I love you, no]. I found this poem very close to me, very familiar. The dramatic weight of the relationship between the father and the daughter that appears in Amama was already very well drawn in the poem, and the history of the bed was also there. I found it very cinematic.
Is there nowadays a pulse between generations in the Basque Country as you show in Amama? Between tradition and innovation?
There has been a noticeable change in the way we live with the latest generations in the Basque Country, and also in the rest of the world. Each family has lived these changes in their own way. Essentially changes have occurred in society, in the values, in the organization of the family. Ultimately, it’s a way to orientate yourself, finding your place in the world. And that can cause traumatic situations. Those who work traditionally from generation to generation, as is the case of the baserritarrak, have had to mold to the new situation. The case of the baserritarrak is a very special case, because as well as being your workplace the baserri is your home. It shares the same space. So besides having to readjust their work organization they also have had to transform the organization of the family. And that is not such a simple thing to do.
This is your third film, which shows great maturity. What does film making mean to you?
I also feel I have reached a point of maturity. What I know of this world makes me feel mature, and I like how I’ve gotten to where I am now. Cinema is life for me. Cinema helps me grow as a person, besides helping me let go of burdens, open pathways and visualize new worlds. It is also beautiful to realize the effect that a film has on the audience. Once they told me that a baserritarra father was building a bed for his daughter. It is wonderful to know that cinema can serve to open lines of communication with people.
When you showed your previous film in San Francisco, Bertsolari, you were interviewed by a Native American television. Amama is now showing in a Latino film festival. Isn’t it strange that you get labeled in these “strange” categories abroad as a Basque?
I am not Latino at all, and the Mediterranean is not my sea, but often I’ve shown my film in Mediterranean film festivals. Cinema “is sold” through families. Since we are part of the Spanish state, we are Latinos and Mediterranean. But above all we are Basque, and although we’ve been making films in euskara [Basque language] for a short period of time, we’ve managed to start showing our films in film festivals around the world. And if we continue making films every year we will be able to become a “family” so that euskaldun cinema will be known everywhere. In the same manner that Icelandic cinema has done it. Our references are those, northern countries, countries that like us make films in a language spoken by very few people. But they make good films, quality cinema, and they have a very direct way of telling. They managed how to do it. I see that our path goes in that direction.
What does the current Basque cinema scene look like?
I think that cinema in the Basque Country is very healthy. There are many people making films, with new ideas and eager to tell stories. Many productions are independent, very personal and special proposals. And they are opening their own way in film festivals. On the other hand there are more daring productions such as the film Handiya, with a bolder production design and big budget that seems to be able to get more international distribution. And in euskara. We have normalized the existence of films in euskara, which has made filmmakers to stay in the Basque Country and work from here. It has changed the system used by previous generations, who made their first film in the Basque Country and then moved on to Madrid (Julio Medem, Alex de la Iglesia, Enrique Urbizu). Now, we are convinced that we can make films from here, we’re doing it and it has led to the birth of a new cinema. Cinema, in euskara, independent and, although small, of high quality.
What would you say to the public in San Francisco before showing your film?
That they are going to watch a film that comes from deep inside. They will have the opportunity to make a beautiful journey that they will not regret.