Believed lost, first Basque-language film turns up in Paris

Researcher finds silent version of 1956 doc ‘Gure Sor Lekua’

University of the Basque Country President Iñaki Goirizelaia (left), next to the author of the research, Josu Martínez.
University of the Basque Country President Iñaki Goirizelaia (left), next to the author of the research, Josu Martínez.FERNANDO DOMINGO-ALDAMA

A copy of the first film to be shot in the Basque language, which was believed to be lost for good, has been unearthed in a private residence in Paris — but with its soundtrack missing.

Gure Sor Lekua, a 90-minute color documentary that premiered 57 years ago, was discovered by Josu Martínez, a researcher at the University of the Basque Country who is working on the film as part of his doctoral thesis.

At the announcement of the discovery alongside university president Iñaki Goirizelaia last week, Martínez explained that Gure Sor Lekua, which depicts scenes of rural life, was aimed at Basques of the diaspora. Its director, André Madré — in whose hometown of Hazparne in the French Basque Country the film was premiered in 1956 — hoped the images would help alleviate his compatriots’ nostalgia for their homeland. According to the research carried out, the movie achieved its goal and reached Basques who emigrated abroad. The script of the documentary was written by Jean Elizalde, “Zerbitzari,” a writer, priest and member of the Royal Academy of the Basque Language.

Martínez said that until now it was thought that the first films shot in Basque were the four documentaries that Getxo-born filmmaker Gotzon Elortza made in 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1962, which have all been preserved in their entirety.

But many press articles from the period, as well as some witnesses, have confirmed that Gure Sor Lekua was conceived and filmed in Basque. That is why Martínez is now trying to locate either a sound copy of the film or its audio — if it turns out that the soundtrack was played separately to the images.

Gure Sor Lekua.
Gure Sor Lekua.

Martínez is hoping to advance the investigation at a showing of a cut-down version of the film in Hazparne, where it was first shown 57 years ago, on December 20 to coincide with the Zinegin Basque film festival. The idea is that some elder local resident might be able to provide a clue as to the whereabouts of the missing audio. The screening will be accompanied by music written especially for the occasion by Joserra Senperena.

Martínez did not want to reveal more details about the discovery as the whole story will be published in his thesis, which he hopes to finish next year.

Goirizelaia called the find an “extraordinary success for the cultural heritage of our people and for the study of the beginnings of Basque in one of the fundamental art forms of our age.”

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