Ken Loach takes aim at the British film industry

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Dave Calhoun reports from the Vue West End cinema where the veteran director delivered the LFF keynote speech

Ken Loach drew on 49 years experience in film and television last night to deliver a damning address on the lack of creativity and independence in the British screen industries when he delivered the second annual keynote speech at the LFF.

As ever a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Loach masked furious opinions with a timid presence, apologising for sections of his speech and quipping that ‘now I know what vicars go through’ when he got his papers muddled up. But his delivery was forthright and angry, fuelled with humour and passion as he split his speech into four sections about the responsibility of everyone in film and television to the audience, creativity, filmmakers and their craft and, finally, their own work.

The 74-year-old director of ‘Kes’, ‘Poor Cow’, ‘Land and Freedom’ and, more recently, ‘Sweet Sixteen’ and ‘Looking for Eric’ lambasted the ‘colonising’ of our cinemas by American product and called for the public ownership of cinemas which were programmed by film lovers and not ‘by people who care about fast food’ – which was amusing considering he was delivering his talk from four floors up in a Vue Cinemas multiplex.

He lampooned a culture of ignorant television executives, declaring that television has become ‘the enemy of creativity’ and adding that he is ‘pleased to see that some top-ranking BBC executives are going to lose their jobs – but let’s start cutting further down.’ He also criticised the low quality of current affairs coverage and documentaries on television, giving special emphasis to the lack of visual intelligence shown by print journalists moving into television: ‘Print journalists should be barred from television.’

Loach, whose 'Route Irish' is showing in the festival next week, expressed concern that digital technologies and a drive for profit were damaging the craft of filmmaking. He said that any film which is shot, directed and written by one person is ‘a home movie’. Those who commission films on that basis, in order to cut costs by cutting out other craftspeople, ‘show contempt for film, and we have to challenge and fight them.’  He also said that no one should accept to work for free and if they do, they should realise that ‘you’re doing someone else out of a job.’ He added: ‘If you’re not in the union, join it.'

Loach also attempted to describe the nature of his own, ongoing ‘project’ in television and cinema. For many years now, he has been working with the writer Paul Laverty and the producer Rebecca O'Brien, along with regular collaborators such as the sound mixer Ray Beckett and director of photography Barry Ackroyd. ‘Our project has been to record, celebrate, describe and show solidarity with ordinary, working-class people,’ he said. ‘And I will not apologise for calling anyone “working-class”.’

The director said he is often asked why he chooses to tell stories of the working class. ‘"Aren’t they a bit miserable?"’ he said, quoting his detractors. His answer was that he feels compelled to describe the working class because their stories are not told; that too few films tell of their ‘collective strength’; that they are important because change will come from those with ‘not much’; and, finally, ‘they have the best jokes.’

He also took a swipe at the Queen and those who accept awards in her name. ‘I would like to ask those who’ve knelt before the Queen: what are you doing? That woman represents most of what is wrong with this country.’

He ended with a rallying cry to the audience, many of whom were young filmmakers, invited by the event’s sponsor, Skillset. ‘Be irreverent, demanding, critical. Join a union. Realise the potential of this great medium of film.’

Author: Dave Calhoun



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