In 2015, to mark the centenary of the birth of Orson Welles, the 9th edition of the Punto de Vista International Documentary Film Festival, which will be held from 10th to 15th February, will have a very special guest: the boy who acted as a guide in the documentaries by the American director on the French Basque Country as part of his Around the World series, produced in 1955 for the BBC. Chris Wertenbaker was the blonde boy with blue eyes who, at the age of 11, lived in Ziburu, the coastal town located in front of San Juan de Luz, and was responsible for accompanying the director of Citizen Kane on his journey along the border between the Atlantic and the Pyrenees. On Monday 9th February, Chris Wertenbaker will return from New York, the city where he lives today, to give a conference in Pamplona on the film, accompanied by the Basque writer, Bernardo Atxaga.
The two documentaries by Orson Welles, Pays Basque I (The Basque Countries) and Pays Basque II (Basque Pelota), portray the idiosyncrasy of the Basques highlighting the customs and traditions of the fishing village of Ziburu, where Welles arrived to visit the family of his friend, Charles Wertenbaker, who had unfortunately died a few months earlier. Charles Wertenbaker was an important international editor of Time Magazine from 1942 and had set up his studio in Bidegain Tower, located at the top of the mountain overlooking the port of Sokoa and Ziburu, in the former watchtower from where the Basque sailors looked out for whales in the bay. The affection that the father felt for the French Basque Country is a legacy inherited by his son, Chris, who acts as a guide in the film, explaining the secrets of the pelota game, the Basque dances and life on the border to Orson Welles. Dantxarinea and the pigeon hunting posts of Etxalar appear in the scenes chosen by Welles and Chris Wertenbaker’s mother, who is also a journalist and writer, appears in another, conducting the American’s visit via a lengthy interview in the garden of the family home, a house called Ainara which they rented for years on the Basque coast, not far from the house where Maurice Ravel was born.
The boy who accompanies Welles through the treasures of this geography and who appears with his childhood friends climbing the blossoming cherry trees, later developed his professional career as a neuro-ophthalmologist in New York and has been immersed in his love for music over the years, as shown in one of the scenes in which he sings Haurrak ikas zazue for Welles. Nowadays, Chris Wertenbaker plays the strings in a group for Welles called Port O´Monkeys and is a fan of flamenco, as well as a great expert in oriental string instruments.
This double bill of two documentaries will be screened to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Orson Welles and will bring us closer to the foreigner’s vision of this part of the French Basque Country in those years, described by the author as a “land of legends in which a mysterious language is spoken”.