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Ken Loach: Europe Should Welcome Refugees, Not Send Them Back

Variety logo Variety 7/3/2017 Will Tizard
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In accepting their Crystal Globes at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival on Monday for the remarkable collaboration that produced a dozen films over 21 years, screenwriter Paul Laverty joked that he’s not sure how much director Ken Loach has understood him all this time. The strong Glasgow accent is something Laverty shares with some of Loach’s characters in “Sweet Sixteen,” one of their first outings and a tough, tender coming-of-age story about teens facing miserable odds in life.

When the film won the screenplay prize at Cannes in 2002, Laverty said, British critics complained they couldn’t understand a word of the dialogue and had to resort to reading the French subtitles.

Speaking to a packed house at the Hotel Thermal’s Grand Hall, Loach commended the festival for awarding him jointly with Laverty. “Too often all the attention goes to the director,” Loach said, adding that it’s teamwork that results in “the best things we do together.”

“So the next time you’re looking at a film and you see ‘A film by…’ you know you’re looking at a massive ego.”

The award is doubly significant to Loach, he said, when remembering his 1970 trip to Karlovy Vary to accept the prize for “Kes,” another breakthough coming-of-age story shot by Chris Menges, who, Loach pointed out, learned much from Czech cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek on the set of Lindsay Anderson’s “If…”

With the Soviet-backed crackdown on civil rights in full effect in 1970, the mood was somber, Loach recalled — deeply contrasting that of two years earlier, when he had visited during the height of the Prague Spring reform movement led by Alexander Dubcek, when actress Carol White won the prize for Loach’s “Poor Cow.”

The theme of solidarity and alliances among characters with vastly different backgrounds, even nationalities, has worked well for Loach and Laverty, the director said.

“Increasingly, we find these ideas are under threat,” said Loach, particularly with the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, which sees waves of refugees arriving on the continent “looking for solidarity.”

“Let’s hope we have the generosity to say together, ‘Welcome,’ instead of sending them back.”

Speaking to Variety, Laverty recalled the short films he and Loach did recently to help aid the British Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn in his campaign against Theresa May, providing a counterpoint to the daily attacks from May supporters in the U.K. tabloid press.

Despite the “poisonous” right-wing narrative portraying Corbyn as a threat, Laverty said, “I think reality is imposing itself. There is now such a crisis for young people in housing, for example, that all the propaganda in the world can’t change that.”

Working people, who populate nearly all of his films with Loach, are beginning to reject the conservative agenda, Laverty said, noting that many are now so desperate that they commute to London jobs from hours away since they cannot afford to live there — including city firefighters.

Loach said it’s still too early to tell whether the political tide is turning away from populist, xenophobic parties, but ventured, “It could be a turning point. I think we’re all working as hard as we can to make it a turning point.”

If citizens can stay informed using alternative sources such as social media, he said, “winning over the right-wing press — the far-right-wing press — if that can spread and really gather strength, then the spirit of 2017 would really be something special.”

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