Eight weeks of shooting, a year of post-production and a budget of €4.3 million, not counting the item destined for promotion. The filmmaker Paul Urkijo has broken barriers in Spanish cinema with his fantasy film and battles Iratiby daring with a rarely recurring genre in the productions that are released in the country, so divided between auteur cinema, blockbuster comedy and horror films.
After its debut at the last edition of the Sitges Festivalwhere it won the Audience Award and the award for best visual effects, Irati arrives this Friday in Spanish cinemas with an unusual proposal in the cinema that is shot in Spain: ancestral rites, mythology, bloody battles, fantasy, medieval epic, beauty in nature and infinite landscapes. This ambitious production, nominated for five Goya awards, is set in the 8th century BC and, in addition to adapting the comic The Irati cycleby Juan Luis Landa and Jon Muñoz, draws on the history and legends of the Basque Country and Navarre, as he has told Vozpopuli its manager.
Q: How much time and effort did it take you to build this project?
A: It’s been almost six years. It has been complicated because it is a type of genre that is not usually made in this country, I had to convince the producers and the team to make this film. I have been shooting short films for more than 20 years, always in the fantastic genre. I have faced the limitations of carrying out projects with ambitious stagings at the level of effects, of historical staging. On the one hand the passion for the genre, but on the other hand the obstacles. Once I write the script, as I am also an illustrator, I usually make a book with the conceptual arts of what the visual strategy to sell the story will be like. At one point in the film it has been like taking a leap into the void, it has been a very big commitment from a production that aims to be as epic as possible.
Q: In addition to directing, sign the script and you are in production. Is it a more traditional film than the big productions we are used to seeing?
A: You are aware of where each element is, where you can put more energy or where less. If I have to cut the script I know what it means for the budget, how I’m going to do it and the cost of doing it one way or another. These sectors are always linked and this helps me to make the film possible.
Q: People speak of you as a pioneer because it is a fantastic film with a medieval epic, in which myths and battles are narrated. Do you feel that way?
A: It is inevitable to think about it because there are no references. we have a movie like the heart of the warrior (2000), which talks about those role-playing games, with epic fantasy, or the dragon knight (1985), with Miguel Bosé, which was not literally fantastic. I have always been a lover of the fantastic genre, since I was a child I have sucked sword and sorcery from films like excalibur and Conan the barbarianand I have received that compendium of mythological tales that are something very important.
Q: The film has been compared to The Lord of the rings or with The Pan’s Labyrinth.
A: I feel very honored, they are works made by great masters that I love, I feel very flattered, although my referents are from before. I was born in the 80s and that’s what I’ve been drinking from. As well as The Lord of the rings It is an epic, gigantic film, with fantastic races and worlds, mine is more of an adventure of some characters who enter a mythological world, which navigates between the legendary and the historical, relying on reality -it also talks about historical events- although at a time when there is not much information and images, even the religious iconography itself shows a syncretism in which religious symbology was not established and was mixed with the pagan ways of thinking of yesteryear. It’s a very interesting time to play on the line between the legendary and the historical.
Here we have a culture, a compendium of stories and epic and historical stories that are exportable and could compete with any other industry. But the problem is the same as always: moneyPaul Urkijo, director of ‘Irati’
Q: Beyond the budget, why aren’t there films like this in Spanish cinema? Is there any prejudice regarding internal possibilities?
A: Part of the budget mainly, it is an industrial question. Any film is always difficult, it is an act of faith, but in the fantastic genre it means much more. We are used to consuming the fantastic genre from abroad. Paradoxically, the highest grossing genre of cinema that we consume, from our movie theaters, is the fantastic and horror genres. Here we have a culture, a compendium of stories and epic and historical stories that are exportable and could compete with any other industry. But the problem is the same as always: money. We have to set the bar very high to get to do things that have not been done, for the technicians to develop things that have not been done here. In this country, cinema is made for love.
Q: Eneko Sagardoy, one of the protagonists, has said in an interview that some foreign producers asked him about how this film was made possible.
A: That speaks volumes because it places us at the same level as international multimillion-dollar productions. In Sitges we won the Audience Award and the Best Special Effects Award. As for the second award, that responds to the fact that visually we have a film that competes with others with very high budgets and gigantic effects. If people ask that it is because we have done well.
Q: Do you think that it takes some confidence and to get out of auteur cinema and the highest grossing comedy?
A: I like to see all kinds of cinema, I think there has to be everything, but I think there is a place for the fantastic genre of entertainment that goes hand in hand with an auteur genre, with cultural concerns, that talks about the problems today too. I think it can go hand in hand and that people enjoy those kinds of movies. There are many filmmakers who want to make this type of film, we hope that Irati is the first of many.
Q: The language -old Basque- is perhaps the most risky bet, because the film can travel less. Why did they make this decision?
A: We have tried to be as faithful as possible to the original text, to those legends that have been transmitted through the language itself. The very names of the deities or places, which are closely linked to that language. With Arrementari we saw that people internationally appreciated that the film was in Basque, because they found an exoticism and a character that it would not have otherwise. I have made this film more from my heart and guts, thinking more about the love I have for these stories than about profitability, although it is essential that it be profitable to continue working.
I have conceived this film to be seen in the cinema. We have shot it as large as possible, with anamorphic lenses, panoramic vision, with general shots of those natural places, as precious and epic as possible”Paul Urkijo
Q: In addition to the graphic novel it’s based on, there are other different elements that you include in the film, related to mythos and history.
A: It’s always been an obsession to make a mythology and sword and sorcery movie out of here. In the 90s I had a comic, The Irati cycle, by Juan Luis Landa and Jon Muñoz, who spoke of that world of the 8th century in which there were two characters: Eneko, a young Christian name of the time, supposedly the first king of the kingdom of Pamplona, and Irati, a young pagan and mysterious woman of the place. It was a youth comic, with a drawing more similar to Asterix than anything else, but it drank from that original source of mythology and the oral transmission of legends. I got the rights and using these two characters I was able to talk about those two worlds: the Christian and the pagan, the tangible and the intangible, the real and the magical. I took it to my terrain, to a more dramatic point, I added real historical elements, such as the battle of Roncesvalles or the family relations between the Christians from Navarre, the Muslim families of the Tudela area, and my own reflection on Basque mythology.
Q: Now that it seems that everything ends at some point in the platforms. Would you say yes?
R. How to say no, fighting against that is absurd. I have conceived this film to be seen in the cinema. We have shot it as large as possible, with anamorphic lenses, panoramic vision, with general shots of those natural places, as precious and epic as possible, with an impressive sound mix in Atmos. In the end, the reality is that I hope they go to the movies but the film has to be enjoyed in other formats. I think it is a way for the film to reach many parts of the world, its final destination is the public and if it has to go to platforms, it is welcome. I ask that you please not see it at home on your mobile or on a tablet, although hey, you can see it where you can. The best place to enjoy always is and will be the cinema.