Submarine Channel


Small Nations, Big Games

Small Nations, Big games…How is the Pilota game embracing deeper questioning about Basque identity?

The Story

Small nations often have big ambitions. They seek independence, they want to preserve their language and they want their unique cultural and national identity to be recognized. The frustration of not being able to live up to these ambitions is often compensated by very peculiar sports that those small countries or ethnic communities can take great pride of. The Irish have their hurling, the Inuit have their kneel jumping and mouth pulling, and here in The Netherlands we have the Friezen, a community in the north of the country that speaks a language that most Dutch people don’t understand. The Friezen play a sports that’s called fierljeppen – jumping over large ponds of water using a large pole.

Our 2009 one-episode Minimovie Small nations, Big games is about Pilota, the national sport of the Basques, a people in the north of Spain. The director followed his friend, Henrike Olasolo, from Amsterdam back to Basque country where Henrike was born. His father was a famous Pilota player back in the days, but Henrike, to his embarassment, has never played the game. For Henrike the social and political situation of the Basques (being stigmatized in the media as brutes and underdeveloped people) is symbolised by Pilota: the discussions about the cultural identity of the Basques is like slinging balls against a brick wall. The words bounce back, just like the balls.

About Jan Jaap Kuiper

Jan Jaap Kuiper (1976) is a historian who is specialized in the history of the Russian film industry. After he graduated from the University of Groningen he stayed in Russia for some time and directed films in Moscow and Sint Petersburg. Back in The Netherlands Jan Jaap studied at the Amsterdam Film Academy. With his exam film Pyotr, letters from the gulag he won the VPRO Documentary Prize and as reward he got a budget to make this MiniMovie.

About Minimovies

A Minimovie is an episodic documentary consisting of 8 to 10 episodes. Episodes are 7 to 10 minutes each. Put together, they form a self-contained story. With MiniMovies SubmarineChannel explores a new narrative and visual style of documentary filmmaking. You can watch the Minimovies here or simply download them to your digital device of choice.


a Submarine Channel production in collaboration with VPRO


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