Brit film director and political firebrand Ken Loach shoots from the lip
Your new film, Jimmy’s Hall, is based on the story of a Thirties Irish communist leader who clashes with the establishment. What attracted you to the script?
Jimmy Gralton established a hall where he and his crew could freely exchange ideas. And the ruling establishment destroyed it. It’s a story that has many contemporary parallels such as Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist whose studio was destroyed because it was a place where people came and exchanged ideas.
Do you ever worry that audiences will be disappointed if you make a film that doesn’t tick the ‘gritty’ and ‘political’ boxes?
No, the instinct is to capture something authentic between a group of people in a particular situation. Try to tell the truth, make it entertaining and just capture the humanity of the situation and the people.
You were in Cannes recently. Do you still enjoy the festival?
The good thing about French cinema is that it reflects aspects of their culture, whereas our cinema, by and large, tends to reflect US culture. We look to the Oscars and we’re happy to be a copy of the US industry. That’s sad.
You’re known for casting local people; how many actors in Jimmy’s Hall were newcomers?
Quite a lot, especially the young ones. I think it’s often a good combination to have both experienced actors and people that haven’t done it before because the experienced actors have to be as true as the people who just happen to be there. And equally, the people doing it for the first time have to absorb the professional way of working. So they help each other.
How did making Jimmy’s Hall influence your take on the Irish political landscape?
The history of Irish independence, and the mess that the British left in Ireland, is something we all need to know the truth of. The disruptive deal that was done to bring the war of independence to an end by people such as Churchill and the way the politicians adapted to the conditions laid down by the British, that kind of melting pot is what led to the Jimmy Gralton story.
Why is left-wing, working-class political representation shrinking in the UK?
I’ve been involved in every group that’s raised its standard, and I try to support them. There was Respect, which has disintegrated, and there’s now a project called Left Unity that is trying to bring people together. Germany has Die Linke, Greece has Syriza, France has a left-wing party, Spain has United Left. The division between Miliband and Cameron is so narrow that the left is barely represented. There’s clearly a need.
Ken Loach MP has a ring to it…
No, I would be a rank-and-file member. But that’s what’s needed.
Your work has been censored in the past, is it easier to get it distributed now?
The number of independent cinemas is decreasing and they are pretty much programmed by one organisation. So the independents that programme for themselves are getting smaller and smaller.
Do you think on-demand TV is something a young Ken Loach could tap into?
No, it isn’t happening. The BBC is controlled by government. The people who control independent TV are, again, government-linked. The government dishes out the franchises and the people who get the franchises will sing the song the government wants to hear. Tony Benn said we don’t need the KGB here because we’ve got the BBC, and it’s true. There has to be fundamental changes in how broadcasting is organised for it to represent the breadth of opinion there is in the country.
Is the internet a launchpad for social change?
It’s hard to say – I can’t operate it. I always press the wrong button.
Which filmmaker is heir to your throne?
It’s invidious to name names because I’m bound to miss out someone, but there are lots around – and there are lots who want to be making films but aren’t.
You’re best known for 1969’s Kes. What do you think of Hollywood’s modern young-adult films? Have you seen The Hunger Games?
I should probably see it. But the point about cinema is that it’s diverse, it should have all types of films. The problem is you just tend to get US commercial cinema. If I’ve got spare time I tend to watch the football rather than go to the cinema – that’s my mistake.
Should Eric Cantona have taken over from David Moyes?
I don’t know. The interesting thing is FC United, a supporter-owned club formed when the Glazers took over. It’s a terrific initiative run by a supporters’ trust.
Do you have any guilty pleasures? Have you ever, say, watched Snakes On A Plane?
I will plead guilty to one of them, which is Antiques Roadshow. The format, where the owner is meant to look delighted by the valuation, is tedious. But I do like hearing about the history of each object.
Jimmy’s Hall (Entertainment One) is at cinemas now
(Image: Rex Features)