Eta documentary under fire for ‘whitewashing’ terrorism

Festival director insists that critics should watch film first

Organisers of a film festival in northern Spain are facing calls for a documentary about the defunct Basque terrorist group Eta to be withdrawn from the event as the directors face possible legal action.

The Netflix-produced documentary No me llame Ternera (Don’t call me Ternera) is due to be shown to the press at the San Sebastián Film Festival on September 22nd, before a public showing the following day and then becoming available via streaming.

Co-directed by the well-known journalist Jordi Évole, it includes an in-depth interview with Josu Urrutikoetxea, also known as Josu Ternera, a former leader of Eta who is awaiting trial for 11 murders. Ternera was arrested in France in 2019 after being on the run for 17 years. He is accused of blowing up a civil guard barracks in Zaragoza in 1987.

Eta declared an end to its four-decade campaign of violence in 2011 and disbanded in 2018. The film, however, is under fierce attack in advance of its showing.


On Monday, the Basque newspaper El Diario Vasco published an open letter signed by more than 500 people, many of them public figures, calling for the organisers to withdraw the film.

“Unfortunately, this documentary forms part of the process of whitewashing Eta and the tragic history of terrorism in our country, which has become a justifying and banal narrative which puts murderers and accessories, victims and those who resist on the same level,” the letter read. “Nobody accepts a similar narrative applied to the defence or justification of other types of violence, whether it be ethnic, sexual or social.”

The signatories include right-wing politician Rosa Díez, philosopher Fernando Savater, best-selling author of the novel Homeland about Eta violence Fernando Aramburu and several representatives of terrorism victims’ associations.

José Luis Rebordinos, director of the festival, responded with a statement of his own, suggesting “the film No me llame Ternera should be seen first and criticised afterwards and not the other way round”.

He added that the documentary “neither justifies nor whitewashes Eta because the festival would not show a film with that premise”.

The terrorism victims’ organisation, Dignity and Justice, has asked the state prosecutor to watch the film with a view to deciding whether it violates laws against the glorification of terrorism.

Évole, who co-directed the film with Màrius Sánchez, has pointed out that as well as interviewing Ternera, they also spoke at length to a victim of Eta in the documentary.

“I can assure you that we have done this with an enormous sense of journalistic responsibility, with absolute respect for victims and with the hope that younger generations will understand one of the darkest episodes of our recent history,” he said.

This is not the first time that a documentary about Eta has caused a storm ahead of its public showing. In 2003, The Basque Ball: Skin Against Stone by Julio Medem faced demonstrations by terrorism victims’ groups who unsuccessfully asked San Sebastián’s local authorities to block its showing at the city’s festival.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain