‘A film must ask the questions that those in power don’t want asked’

«Today, we have reached the point that films where actors don’t speak English with an American accent are not considered genuine.» Those were the words of British film director Ken Loach at a recent meeting with the public at the Ianos bookstore in downtown Athens, on the occasion of the award he received from the Panorama of European Cinema. «The fact that today there are so few people who watch non-American cinema is a great political failure.» Loach said much more. He talked about the shift to the right that all British political parties have taken. «In essence, there is no real left party in Britain today; everything favors the free market,» he said. He pointed out that what is important is not the way you film a movie, but the reason why you film it: «Just wanting to shoot a movie is not enough. The film must have a strong basic story line, because it is something public, not private.» He added that cinema must annoy the «haves and have-nots.» «Whether it is a drama, a comedy or an allegory, a film must ask the questions that those in power don’t want asked.» Loach was friendly and polite. He heard much flattery, since many of those in the audience had come not to ask him questions – which was the reason for the meeting – but to express their admiration in public. There were also some funny incidents. A well-known Greek actress seemed to confuse Loach with Mike Leigh, as she congratulated him on his «wonderful film ‘Happy-Go-Lucky,’» which of course is Leigh’s. There was confusion and quick corrections that Loach seemed unaware of, as he just continued smiling. From a certain point of view, it is not difficult to mix up Loach and Leigh. Their films have similarities regarding their themes, the atmosphere and the problems they both touch upon, although Leigh is more prone to make statements on social issues while Loach is more political. They both have a realistic, even naturalistic, cinematic vision. They continue a well-known Anglo-Saxon tradition: From Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy to John Osborne, Kingsley Amis and 1960s British cinema, UK artists have shown a great ability and even an obsession to dissect society with a harsh sense of realism. Loach’s work in particular has a lot of neo-realist elements, with his actors often being amateurs. We could then wonder why artistic and philosophical movements such as surrealism and existentialism never found roots in Britain. When Margaret Thatcher declared that society does not exist, she must have had people like Loach in mind. The audience seemed rather unconcerned with all of that at the bookstore meeting. In fact, when Loach said, half-jokingly, that he would gladly sign a political manifesto of leftist filmmakers, everybody became enthusiastic. Loach had found the ideal audience. No matter what he said it was received with applause. Of course one cannot show disdain toward people’s enthusiasm. On the other hand, one can’t help but react when others express inner feelings that are out of place – for instance when some became moved just because Loach’s film about the Irish civil war, «The Wind that Shakes the Barley,» reminded them of our civil war. Or when others wondered «how an Englishman decided to tackle the Spanish Civil War,» referring to his film «Land and Freedom.» As always, when critical outlook is replaced by idealization, everything becomes very predictable and boring.