Ken Loach has been making films for six decades. That alone is an achievement that puts him in a very singular category alongside Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, Agnès Varda, Francis Ford Coppola and few others. This fact is even more staggering when you think that cinema as an art form is only a little over a century old.
Since the 1960’s, he’s consistently made politically charged features that have taken their inspiration from real life, real people who didn’t have a voice before then, who didn’t enjoy the representation that the upper class did in movies and television. He is now due to receive the first ever Raindance Auteur Award.
Here are five reasons why Ken Loach is the quintessential independent filmmaker.
He carries on the tradition of independent filmmakers
Ken Loach started making films in the 60’s at the BBC. He was one of the first directors to take their content outside of the studio. The topics he tackled and the characters he portrayed were not the traditional ones. He immediately started showing people living their lives, and he took his camera on the streets.
That’s what indie filmmakers had been doing since the 1940’s: think of Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, which was one of the first films to portray ordinary people and their dilemmas, or what the French Nouvelle Vague started doing François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. Loach mentions De Sica’s seminal work as an inspiration in his early days.
He’s not trying to please anyone
Quite the contrary. Loach has been guided by one principle, and that was telling stories that were truthful, authentic, and showed how everyday people lived, not stars or exceptional characters. That was a major change in and of itself and made waves. Changing points of view always leads to controversy, as was the case with his first Palme d’Or winner The Wind That Shakes The Barley.
It was something new -and it still remains new and necessary as the divide between blockbuster, high-profile films and smaller independent films is growing wider. That also means that we may not find him where we expect him to be. For instance, he directed a period children’s adventure film in 1979 called Black Jack.
He’s made compromises
Of course, the life of an independent filmmaker is not all about making noble and extraordinary films. That’s what they strive for, and in Loach’s case he has succeeded brilliantly time and again, all the way to his latest opus I, Daniel Blake which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes.
However, he is not a stranger to compromises. They are necessary as a filmmaker to navigate the waters of this industry. Loach has often criticised how corporate interests and bureaucracy go against the livelihood of everyday people. However, his CV comprises an ad for McDonald’s. (He’s since stated that this choice still weighs on his conscience.)
His films carry a strong worldview
Loach is not afraid to ruffle some feathers. In fact, more often than not his films have upset quite a few people. That was never gratuitous though. It always came from the same place of wanting to give a voice to the voiceless, actually show stories that seem conceptual or theoretical when we hear or read about them in the news.
He’s shown how prejudice impedes and thwarts the trajectory of people, that it’s worth giving people a chance when they’re young, a second chance when they’re older, and that the plight of the powerless against the powerful, their search for justice, is seemingly endless. That was the story of Kes, and that theme showed up again and again, all the way to The Angels’ Share and I, Daniel Blake.
He can’t be kept away from filmmaking
Several times, Ken Loach has announced his retirement and that his next film would be his last. That was the case with Jimmy’s Hall in 2014. That was also before the Conservative Party got re-elected into power in 2015. This led him to come out of retirement to make another film about how social cuts deeply affect the lives of ordinary citizens.
It’s easy to paint Loach as another vehement left-winger. That does not acknowledge, however, not only the subtlety of his work but also the astonishing sense of urgency inhabiting his political views, even now that he is 80 years old. His admirable fight to give dignity and representation to the powerless is what has kept him coming back through the 60’s, the Thatcher years, up to now.
Ken Loach received the first ever Raindance Auteur Award from Raindance founder Elliot Grove on 29th September 2016.