Monday 13 February 2017

Britain is a country and no country for a feted, old Film Director called Ken Loach, still angry after all these years

Ken, who is 80 years old and has been making films noted for their social realism and driven by his left-wing views, for over 50 years, has finally been granted the kind of accolade he has received for decades in Europe, but been denied in Britain. Last night at the BAFTA Ceremony he received the 'Outstanding British Film Award' for 'I, Daniel Blake.' It stars stand-up comedian Dave Johns in the title role and was written by Ken's long-time collaborator, Paul Laverty. 

The film documents what happened when Daniel, an older man living in Newcastle, had a heart attack; could no longer do his job; was declared fit for work; had his benefits stopped and began to go hungry; met single mother of two Katie, who had moved to Newcastle from London, 300 miles away and being re-housed with her children and was also a victim of welfare. It is a film which rages at the injustice which afflicts the weak and downtrodden in Britain in 2017.

Paul Laverty researched job centres, benefit sanctions and food banks to create the story of Daniel, the joiner and Ken himself has said: "If you get out among the people who are in the food banks, who would not eat unless there were people providing charity, I think you'd find there's a great disgust and despair that we live like that in this country now."

Ken is angry at the "conscious cruelty" of the situation "where the most vulnerable people are told that their poverty is their own fault." Where "bureaucratic inefficiency is vindictive and hunger is being used as a weapon" and "people are being forced to look for work that doesn’t exist.”

Last night Ken said : "Thank you to the Academy for endorsing the truth of what the film says, which hundreds of thousands of people in this country know and that is that the most vulnerable and the poorest people are treated by this Government with a callous brutality that is disgraceful. And it's a brutality that extends to keeping out refugee children that we have promised to help and that is a disgrace too. But films can do many things; they can entertain, they can terrify, they can take us to worlds of the imagination, they can make us laugh and they can tell us something about the real world we live in. And in that real world, it is a bit early for a political speech, I am sorry, it is getting darker, as we know and in the struggle that's coming between the rich and the powerful, the wealthy and the privileged, and the big corporations and the politicians who speak for them, on the one hand, and the rest of us on the other, Then filmmakers and we are all filmmakers here , the  filmmakers know which side they are on, and despite the glitz and the glamour of occasions like this, we are with the people." 

Ken's anger first manifest itself when was 28 when and made ten'Wednesday Plays' for the BBC, including the docudrama 'Up the Junction' in 1965, recounting the experiences of three young women in North Battersea and Clapham Junction, one of whom was pregnant at a time when abortion was illegal. It caused a major uproar in Britain due to its rough language, racist characters, graphic depictions of sexual promiscuity and a harrowing abortion scene.

The following year his 'Cathy Come Home', dealt with the issues of homelessness, unemployment and the working of social services and he saw his film have such a  massive impact that it led directly to a change in the Homeless Laws.

In 1967, for the cinema, he directed 'Poor Cow' about a young woman who married and had a child with an abusive thief who quickly ended up in prison and left alone, took up with his mate, another thief, who seemed to give her some happiness, but who also ended up in the nick. She then took up with a series of seedy types who offered nothing but momentary pleasure until her son went missing and she briefly came to grips with what was most important to her.

Also in 1967 Ken made 'Kes' , the story of a troubled boy and his kestrel and saw it listed as Number 7 by the British Institute in the list of 'Best British films of the Twentieth Century'  

In the same year his documentary, 'The Save the Children Fund Film', was so disliked by the charity that it attempted to have the negative destroyed and it wasn't screened in public until 2011.

In 1981 he was commissioned by Channel 4 to make 'A Question of Leadership', a documentary series on the response of the British Trades Union Movement to the challenge posed by the policies of Margaret Thatcher's Government and concluded that the decision not to screen the programme was 'politically motivated'.

Four years later saw his 'Which Side Are You On?' about the songs and poems of the 1984-85 Miners' Strike commissioned by ITV's, 'The South Bank Show', also withdrawn from transmission, only to see it broadcast after it won a major prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.

In 1991 his 'Riff Raff'', which won the 'Felix Award for Best European Film', received less acclaim in the USA where it was shown with subtitles because of its English dialect.

He was 69 in 2006, when he won the 'Palme d'Or' at Cannes for 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley' focused on thWar of Independence against the British during the 1920s. 

Three years later in 2009, his 'Looking for Eric', which featured a depressed postman's conversations with the ex-Manchester United football star, Eric Cantona, played by himself, failed to get wide release and only made £12,000 profit, despite receiving critical acclaim.

In 2012 his 'Jimmy's Hall' was selected to compete for the European 'Palme d'Or' which Jonathan Romney in the Guardian described as, finding : 'the director in lyrical, but typically angry form' with its true story of an Irishman of Jimmy Gralton who was deported from his own country without trial in 1933. His crime – to have set up a public hall in County Leitrim, a venue for education, community events and musical shindigs both traditional and featuring the jazz that Gralton had brought back from America.

Ken has said : "A movie isn't a political movement, a party or even an article. It's just a film. At best it can add its voice to public outrage"

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