The Spanish government's Instituto Cervanteshas pulled its contribution of funding to the Viva Spanish Film Festival ofManchester (March 18-28), ostensibly over the inclusion of Julio Medem'scontroversial documentary The Basque Ball: Skin Against Stone in this year's line-up.

The documentary, a flash of 70 interviewsaddressing the emotionally-charged issues of nationalist identity and terrorismin Spain's Basque region, has been at the centre of a storm ofcontroversy since its world premiere last September in San Sebastian.

Local politicians there called for it to bepulled from the line-up and two interviewees asked to be edited out,considering the final version biased and offensive to victims of terroristgroup ETA.

More recently, the Association of TerroristVictims protested at Medem's nomination to Spain's Goya Awards, towhich the country's filmmakers responded in defense of "freedom ofexpression."

Dave Moutrey, director of Viva organiserCornerhouse, expressed his disappointment that "for the first time in teneditions we will not be financially supported by the Instituto Cervantes inManchester. This is due to a breakdown of trust in our ability to programme thefestival, specifically around the screening of the Julio Medemdocumentary."

"The Basque Ball wasone of the most significant Spanish releases of 2003 on a number oflevels," added festival director and programmer Linda Pariser. "Afestival that aims to provide an overview of noteworthy recent Spanish cinemacannot willingly ignore such a title."

The Instituto Cervantes of Manchester declinedto comment in advance of releasing an official press statement.

The Basque Ball (La Pelota Vasca: La PielContra La Piedra) will premiere theatricallyin the UK through Tartan Films on May 7, coinciding with a Basque cinema seasonat the National Film Theatre.

The documentary is one of dozens of filmsscreening at this year's Viva, the UK's only festival dedicated toSpanish cinema, including opening title Soldiers Of Salamina (Soldados DeSalamina) and closing film Carmen. It will also be included in the annual tour of Spanish cinemaorganised by the festival to reach some 20 cities across the UK and Ireland.