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17 June 1936
Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, UK
|Alma mater||St Peter's College, Oxford|
17 June 1936
Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, UK
|Alma mater||St Peter's College, Oxford|
Kenneth "Ken" Loach (born 17 June 1936) is an English film and television director.
He is known for his naturalistic, social realist directing style and for his socialist beliefs, which are evident in his film treatment of social issues such as homelessness (Cathy Come Home) and labour rights (Riff-Raff).
Loach was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, the son of Vivien (née Hamlin) and John Loach. He attended King Edward VI Grammar School and following two years in the Royal Air Force read law at St Peter's College, Oxford. There he performed in the now well-established comedy group, the Oxford Revue. He initially worked as an assistant director at Northampton repertory theatre (now known as Royal & Derngate), but in the early 1960s moved into television direction and was credited in this role on early episodes of Z-Cars in 1964.
Loach's ten contributions to the BBC's Wednesday Play anthology series include the docudramas Up the Junction (1965), Cathy Come Home (1966) and In Two Minds (1967). The first two portray working-class people with the leading characters in Cathy being affected by homelessness, unemployment, and the workings of Social Services. Tony Garnett began to work as his producer in this period, a professional connection which would last until the end of the 1970s.
Coinciding with his work for The Wednesday Play, Loach began to direct feature films for the cinema, with Poor Cow (1967) and Kes (1970). The later recounts the story of a troubled boy and his kestrel, and is based on the novel A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. The British Film Institute named it No 7 in its list of best British films of the twentieth century, published in 1999.
During the 1970s and '80s, Loach's films were less successful, often suffering from poor distribution, lack of interest and political censorship. His documentary The Save the Children Fund Film (1971) was commissioned by the charity, who subsequently disliked it so much they attempted to have the negative destroyed. In fact, it was only screened publicly for the first time on 1 September 2011, at the BFI Southbank.
In 1982, Loach and Central Independent Television were commissioned by Channel 4 to make Questions of Leadership, a documentary series on the response of the British trade union movement to the challenge posed by the policies of the Thatcher government, which trade union members an opportunity to call their own leaders to account. The programmes were not broadcast by Channel 4, a decision Loach claimed was politically motivated. In 2004 Anthony Hayward's book Which Side Are You On? Ken Loach and His Films. claims that the media tycoon Robert Maxwell had put pressure on Central's board, of which he had become a director, to withdraw Questions of Leadership at the time he was buying the Daily Mirror newspaper and needed the co-operation of union leaders, especially Frank Chapple of the electricians.
Which Side Are You On? (1985), about the songs and poems of the UK miners' strike, was commissioned by ITV's The South Bank Show, but also withdrawn from transmission. The film was eventually transmitted on Channel 4, but only after it won a major prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The late 1980s and 1990s saw the production of a series of critically acclaimed films such as Hidden Agenda, one of the rare films dealing with the political troubles in Northern Ireland, Carla's Song set partially in Nicaragua, and Land and Freedom examining the Republican resistance in the Spanish Civil War. "Land and Freedom" contains a quintessentially Loach sequence of a 12 minute political discussion amongst villagers trying to decide whether or not a village's smallholdings should be collectivized. During this period he was also awarded prizes at the Cannes Film Festival on three occasions. He directed the Courtroom Drama reconstructions in the docu-film McLibel, concerning the longest libel trial in English history, which became a promotional disaster for the fast food chain. Interspersed with overtly political films were smaller dramas such as Raining Stones a working class drama concerning an unemployed man's efforts to buy a communion dress for his young daughter.
On 28 May 2006, Loach won the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival for his film The Wind That Shakes the Barley, a film about the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Irish Civil War during the 1920s. In characteristic fashion this sweeping political-historical drama was followed by It's a Free World a story of one woman's attempt to establish an illegal placement service for migrant workers in London. Throughout the 2000s Loach continued to intersperse wider political dramas such as Bread and Roses (which focused on the Los Angeles janitors strike) and Route Irish (set in the Iraq occupation) with smaller examinations of personal relationships. Ae Fond Kiss explored an inter-racial love affair, Sweet Sixteen a teenager's relationship with his mother, and My Name is Joe an alcoholic's struggle to stay sober. His most commercially successful recent film is 2009's Looking for Eric, featuring a depressed postman's conversations with the ex-Manchester United football star, Eric Cantona (played by Cantona himself). A measure of Loach's difficulties gaining broad release for his work is the fact that this film ended up making only £12,000 profit. The film received critical acclaim and won the Magritte Award for Best Co-Production.
In 2011 he released Route Irish, an examination of private contractors working in the Iraqi occupation. A thematic consistency throughout his films, whether they examine broad political situations, or smaller intimate dramas, is his focus on personal relationships. The sweeping political dramas (Land and Freedom, Bread and Roses, The Wind that Shakes the Barley) examine wider political forces in the context of relationships between family members (Bread and Roses, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Carla's Song), comrades in struggle (Land and Freedom) or close friends (Route Irish). In a 2011 interview for the Financial Times, Loach explains how "The politics are embedded into the characters and the narrative, which is a more sophisticated way of doing it".
Loach lives with his wife, Lesley, in Bath, where he is a supporter of and shareholder in Bath City F.C. A short film concerning Bath FC is part of the DVD issue of "Looking for Eric". His son Jim Loach has also become a television and film director.
His most recent film The Angel's Share centres around a young Scottish troublemaker who is given one final opportunity to stay out of jail. Newcomer Paul Brannigan, 24, from Glasgow, plays the lead role. The film competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival where Loach won the Jury Prize.
Loach's film work is characterised by a particular view of realism; he strives in every area of filmmaking to emphasise genuine interplay between actors, to the point where some scenes in his films appear unscripted. All scenes are carefully scripted, around which some improvisation can occur. The final script and the final film are actually very close. Loach values having a strong, creative partnership with scriptwriters, most recently with Paul Laverty, who has written nine feature films for Loach (including The Wind That Shakes The Barley and Sweet Sixteen), and previously with Jim Allen (Land & Freedom) and Barry Hines (Kes).
In May 2010, Loach told Tom Lamont in an interview about the three films that have influenced him most: Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948), Milos Forman's Loves of a Blonde (1965) and Gillo Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers (1966). De Sica's film had a particularly profound effect on Loach. He noted "It made me realise that cinema could be about ordinary people and their dilemmas. It wasn't a film about stars, or riches or absurd adventures."
Rather than employing method actors, he prefers unknown talent who have had some of the life experience of the characters they portray. Loach's film work has been described as naturalistic; he emphasises the genuine interplay between actors, and foregoes over-dependence on special effects. He succeeds in creating a spontaneous, realistic atmosphere in scenes and many actors, from Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall to Robert Carlyle (Carla's Song and Riff-Raff) and Peter Mullan (My Name Is Joe) have praised the performances he coaxes from actors and how he treats them.
In Bread and Roses, a film about immigrant cleaners in LA, many of the extras were Latino immigrant cleaners. Some were also trade union and grassroots activists. Some knew from their own experience the dangers of crossing the border into the US. Adrien Brody, the main actor, spent time with activists to understand his role better. Pilar Padilla, a Mexican actress and protagonist of the film, had to learn English in a crash course to play the part.
Loach makes great efforts to help the actors express themselves naturally and honestly. He believes that shooting in order, from first scene to last, helps the actors to find a response to their circumstances. Many actors in his films are often not given the full script at the beginning of a shoot, but rather they experience the story just as a fictional character might do. He will often give actors their scenes a couple of days in advance so they can learn their lines, but they still won't know what comes after that. If a scene involves shock or surprise for a character, the actor might not know what is about to happen. In Kes the boy actor, discovering the dead bird at the end, believed Loach had killed the bird, which he had become fond of during the filming (the crew used a dead bird found elsewhere). In the scene where Mr Gryce is searching the schoolboys, the small first year holding everybody else's cigarettes was under the impression that he was to give the headmaster a note and leave the office. Subsequently, when he is searched and found to be "a right little cigarette factory", he is caned alongside the other boys; hence, his look of shock and tears of pain are real. In Raining Stones one of the actresses visited at her house by a loan shark had no idea that he was going to force her to take off her wedding ring and give it to him as part payment. In Carla's Song, the bus driver, played by Robert Carlyle, knew nothing of Carla's attempted suicide until he discovered her in the bath. In Looking For Eric, the main actor Steve Evets discovered that football icon Eric Cantona was in the film only when he turned around to face him in a scene, with the camera rolling.
Loach opposes censorship in cinema and was outraged at the "18" certificate given to Sweet Sixteen. Loach said,
I think it was a very silly decision, such a patronising attitude as well. People are rarely hurt by swear words, yet you see scenes of violence depicted in films often with a 12 certificate. Some of these films have violence for the sake of it, try and push the certification boundaries. I think in my films that the violence is necessary to portray realism, it’s important to the narrative. And yes, it does put a smokescreen on society because it uses violence as a source of entertainment rather than its actual meaning.
Throughout his career Loach's films have been shelved for political reasons. In a 2011 interview with the Guardian newspaper he said "It makes you angry, not on your own behalf, but on behalf of the people whose voices weren't allowed to be heard. When you had trade unions, ordinary people, rank and file, never been on television, never been interviewed, and they're not allowed to be heard, that's scandalous. And you see it over and over again. I mean, we heard very little from the kids in the riots. You hear some people being inarticulate in a hood, but very few people were actually allowed to speak". In the same interview his focus on working people's lives is explained thus: "I think the underlying factors regarding the riots are plain for anyone with eyes to see … It seems to me any economic structure that could give young people a future has been destroyed. Traditionally young people would be drawn into the world of work, and into groups of adults who would send the boys for a lefthanded screwdriver, or a pot of elbow grease, and so they'd be sent up in that way, but they would also learn about responsibilities, and learn a trade, and be defined by their skills. Well, they destroyed that. Thatcher destroyed that. She consciously destroyed the workforces in places like the railways, for example, and the mines, and the steelworks … so that transition from adolescence to adulthood was destroyed, consciously, and knowingly." He argues that working people's struggles are inherently dramatic: "They live life very vividly, and the stakes are very high if you don't have a lot of money to cushion your life. Also, because they're the front line of what we came to call the class war. Either through being workers without work, or through being exploited where they were working. And I guess for a political reason, because we felt, and I still think, that if there is to be change, it will come from below. It won't come from people who have a lot to lose, it will come from people who will have everything to gain." This explains how Loach regards politics and drama as intertwined, rather than existing in separate spheres.
A member of the Labour Party from the early 1960s, Loach left in the mid-1990s. In November 2004, he was elected to the national council of the Respect Coalition He stood for election to the European Parliament on a Respect mandate. He supports the Socialist Resistance organisation. Also, he supports the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of the State of Israel, backed by many intellectuals in Palestinian civil society, including writers, filmmakers, students, trade unions and human rights groups. PACBI is in turn part of a wider global international movement: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), that opposes actions by the Israeli State.
In 2007, Loach was one of more than 100 artists and writers who signed an open letter initiated by Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism and the South West Asian, North African Bay Area Queers (SWANABAQ) and calling on the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival "to honour calls for an international boycott of Israeli political and cultural institutions, by discontinuing Israeli consulate sponsorship of the LGBT film festival and not co-sponsoring events with the Israeli consulate." Loach also joined "54 international figures in the literary and cultural fields" in signing a letter that stated, in part, "celebrating 'Israel at 60' is tantamount to dancing on Palestinian graves to the haunting tune of lingering dispossession and multi-faceted injustice". The letter was published in the International Herald Tribune on 8 May 2008."
Responding to a report, which he described as "a red herring", on the growth of antisemitism since the beginning of the Gaza War, he has said: "If there has been a rise I am not surprised. In fact, it is perfectly understandable because Israel feeds feelings of anti-Semitism." He added "no-one can condone violence".
In May 2009, organisers of the Edinburgh International Film Festival returned a £300 grant from the Israeli Embassy after speaking with Ken Loach. The director was supporting a boycott of the festival called for by the PACBI campaign. In response, former Channel 4 chief executive Sir Jeremy Isaacs describing Loach's intervention as an act of censorship, he said: "They must not allow someone who has no real position, no rock to stand on, to interfere with their programming." Later, a spokesman for the EIFF said that although it had returned £300 to the Israeli Embassy, the festival itself would fund Israeli filmmaker Tali Shalom-Ezer's travel to Edinburgh out of its own budget. In an open letter to Ms Shalom Ezer, Ken Loach wrote "From the beginning, Israel and its supporters have attacked their critics as anti-semites or racists. It is a tactic to undermine rational debate. To be crystal clear: as a film maker you will receive a warm welcome in Edinburgh. You are not censored or rejected. The opposition was to the Festival’s taking money from the Israeli state". To his critics, he added later: "The boycott, as anyone who takes the trouble to investigate knows, is aimed at the Israeli state." Loach said he had a "respectful and reasoned" conversation with event organisers, saying they should not be accepting funds from Israel.
In June 2009, Loach, Paul Laverty (writer) and Rebecca O'Brien (producer) pulled their film Looking For Eric from the Melbourne International Film Festival, where the Israeli Embassy is a sponsor, after the festival declined the withdraw their sponsorship. The festival's chief executive, Richard Moore, compared Loach's tactics to blackmail, stating that "we will not participate in a boycott against the State of Israel, just as we would not contemplate boycotting films from China or other nations involved in difficult long-standing historical disputes.” Australian lawmaker Michael Danby also criticised Loach’s tactics stating that “Israelis and Australians have always had a lot in common, including contempt for the irritating British penchant for claiming cultural superiority. Melbourne is a very different place to Londonistan.”
Loach, Laverty and O'Brien subsequently wrote that: "We feel duty bound to take advice from those living at the sharp end inside the occupied territories. We would also encourage other filmmakers and actors invited to festivals to check for Israeli state backing before attending, and if so, to respect the boycott. Israeli filmmakers are not the target. State involvement is. In the grand scale of things it is a tiny contribution to a growing movement, but the example of South Africa should give us heart".
Together with John Pilger and Jemima Khan, Ken Loach was among the six people in court willing to offer surety for Julian Assange when he was arrested in London on 7 December 2010. In a recent interview with ShortList magazine he said "It’s clear that he’s being set up. Clearly the Yanks want to get him back and either imprison him for a long time, or worse. We need a bit of solidarity with someone who has just told us things that we were entitled to know." The bail money was lost in June 2012 when a judge ordered it to be forfeited, as Assange had sought to escape the jurisdiction of the English courts by entering the London embassy of Ecuador. 
Loach is supporting the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the London Assembly election, 2012 He wrote a letter to The Observer in 2012 condemning the Globe theatre for allowing an Israeli theatre company to perform there.
Loach has been awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Bath, the University of Birmingham, Staffordshire University, and Keele University. Oxford University awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree in June 2005. He is also an honorary fellow of his alma mater, St Peter's College, Oxford. In May 2006, he was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship at the BAFTA TV Awards.
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