The death of Elias Querejeta, “producer of producers” according to the leading lights of Spanish cinema, did not cause a Gandolfini-size wake in the world of film. But film lovers should note the accomplishments of a man who, as much as anyone, moved his country’s cinema into a post-Franco landscape –a state-of-the-cinema where the likes of Pedro Almodovar are even imaginable.
A pivotal figure in the movement that would eventually become known as the New Spanish Cinema, Querejeta produced the essential films of Carlos Saura and Victor Erice (including Erice’s beloved masterpiece, “The Spirit of the Beehive,” a “Pan’s Labyrinth” without monsters), and worked with Manuel Gutierrez Aragon, Ricardo Franco, Eloy de la Iglesia, and many other of his nation’s most challenging films and filmmakers. While filmmakers still had to be cautious in the waning days of Francisco Franco (still dead), what was important about Querejeta was that he seized upon the government’s pre-emptively permissive attitudes of the late ‘60s and simply pushed them to their limits.
The results? Saura’s “The Hunt” (1966), which won Mr. Saura the Silver Bear as best director at the 16th annual Berlin Film Festival; “La Prima Angelica” and “Cria Cuervos,” which won special jury prizes at the 1973 and 1975 Cannes film festivals, respectively; and “Mama Turns 100” (1979), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. (“Mama” was a sequel to Saura’s “Ana and the Wolves” of 1973, which Querejeta also produced).
In addition to the artists he helped establish, he produced the work of new and important talent as well — “Tasio,” “27 Horas,” “Las Cartas de Alou” and “Historias del Kronen” with Montxo Armendáriz; “Familia,” “Barrio,” and the hughly successful “Mondays in the Sun” with Fernando León de Aranoa (and the film’s star, Javier Bardem).
He died June 9 at age 78, and the news, announced by his filmmaker daughter, Gracia, has sort of dribbled out. Querejeta may not have been a force at the time of his passing, but for the onetime professional footballer – he had played in the ‘50s for San Sebastian’s Real Sociedad – the political rights and wrong of Spain remained to the end what they had been at the beginning, for an anti-fascist Basque growing up under the boot heel of Franco: The last film he produced was as documentary, about journalism, the UN, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.