Interview with Ken Loach for his Film “Road Irish”

With Ken Loach
With Ken Loach
With Ken Loach
With Ken Loach

Unlike some of your recent previous films, you chose to center the action in Road Irish on one character…

We’ve done a number of films that are about groups, about collectives. We did one about the Spanish Civil War, one in Nicaragua. They involved true groups, because I think solidarity is one of the most undervalued attributes for a person to have, a sense of solidarity. We’ve done a number of film dealing with groups, not with just one person. But this was a really difficult film to imagine, because we wanted to deal, not only with the Iraq war, but with the privatization of war, and the consequences of war. How to do that? To find a way into that was very difficult. So Paul Laverty wrote the character of Fergus, and within Fergus it contains all of the contradictions of a man who was a regular soldier and becomes a private contractor, that means he works as a mercenary, really, for a private contracting company. He’s done things that are really shameful. And he’s in a world of greed, of corruption, of brutality that has changed him, changed him from the boy he was to the man he is now; it’s a terrible downward spiral. So a way into that seems to be exploring the psychology of this guy who has become a killer, and the tragedy is the destruction of his former self. The way into that seems to be into an individual’s journey. You could do a film about Iraq about a group of Iraqis, that’s probably the best film to make, about a family, a street, a group of Iraqis, what the American ambitions have done to them. But we couldn’t do that, you know, we don’t know the language, we don’t understand the culture. The best for us was through this psychological unraveling.

Your main character works as well as a window of the society he comes from…

He’s a working class guy and he’s friend that has been killed is also working class. They’re the kind of people who become soldiers. They didn’t have much future when they left school, and the army promised a life of adventure, so they become soldiers. And the becoming of professional soldier has changed because you go to different places where there’s conflict, you have people at the end of the sight of your gun, and you may… shoot them. The one question we were told to never ask a soldier is, have you ever killed anyone? Because is not something they want to revisit. So he’s done things like that. And then, working in Iraq at a time when there’s a huge amount of money going around; that’s a situation where ex-soldier could make a lot of money by being mercenaries, and that’s corrupt. So it is the degeneration of a lad who was a bright youth into a man who has nothing to live for.

Do you think that war could be justified?

I think, I mean, war is politics by other means, isn’t it? So I think there are times when people have to fight. I think the fight that the Spanish Republicans fought against the Fascists was a fight they had to fight. The fight of the Nicaraguans against the American sponsored terrorists, the Contras, was a fight the Nicaraguans had to fight. But the acting of killing another human being is always diminishing, isn’t it? Is always terrible, I don’t know, I’m never been in a position that I have to do it; but I also think that If it has to be fought it has to be fought.  Think there’s no question that it was right to fight Hitler.  It was right to fight the Contras, for example. There are wars in other parts of the world that had to be fought because otherwise there would be a world of fascism.

What’s the responsibility of the filmmaker when portraying violent acts?

I think what is irresponsible is to make a film in which the violence becomes exciting and you don’t know why people are fighting. Very few wars are justified. The Iraq war was illegal, it was brutal, it was a war waged by criminals, Blair, Bush and co. they did criminal activity for which they should be brought to trial. Very few wars are just wars. I think there are two responsibilities. First of all is don’t make the violence glamour, don’t put it in slow motion, don’t see the blood spurting out in an unrealistic way. Don’t glamorize violence. But also, more important than the violence is why the war is being fought. You got to evaluate the reason for fighting.

I wanted to ask you about your naturalistic style.

I think the real experience is always more interesting than the inflated performance an actor can sometimes give. I think is important also that the audience can believe in the character that you see. They believe the character in the film can be that character. If you got a very well known star you remember the other parts, you remember the personality of the actor. For me is much more interesting to tangle with real experiences. A sense that what you’re watching could really happen and you’re just observing it rather than being in it, making it melodramatic, making it operatic, putting a lot of music on. What people really do is always much more interesting, much more surprising.

How to reconcile the artifice of drama with that naturalistic approach mostly concerned with the problems in our society?

Well I think drama is based on conflict… And what has inspired –me and the writers I have worked with- is not people as isolated individuals, but people within a social context. How they earn their living, how’s the world they live in, what’s their family, what’s their job, what’s the relationship with their wife, with their husband, with their children, or their parents. It’s that very concrete context in which we live, that determines who we are, how we see ourselves. And then you find that the conflicts are really a struggle for what’s right, for a lot of people. One of the extraordinary sense of history, I suppose, is that study of conflict for people, of conflicting class senses. That’s a situation we’re in on many levels now, always have. It’s like a struggle between different interests. And within that with individuals, within their own context, with their own stories. So I suppose –and it’s a rather long answer- is about trying to put people into the context, the social context of their lives, and then seeing the wider conflicts that they’re in.

As a filmmaker who started in the sixties, within the ‘new ‘waves’, do you think that film can still change the world?

It’s just a medium, really, film it’s just a medium and it’s bound by the consciousness of the person who’s operating the camera or making the film. You wouldn’t expect a revolution of consciousness to develop just because you have a camera. A revolution of consciousness develops because the struggle you’re in, because the conflicts you’re in.  I think the battle for revolutionary consciousness is one the big questions, permanent questions. A camera can help you to agitate, to explain things, to capture things. But it can’t by itself give you revolutionary consciousness.

Handling an instrument of agitation could be a great responsibility…

I guess the responsibility is, first of all, to understand. And to… maybe that sounds too difficult; maybe your first responsibility is just to your friends at work and to your neighbors to make things better, because that will draw you into politics, and that will draw you into consciousness. But if somebody cut your wages you have a responsibility to fight back. If somebody closes your school you got a responsibility to fight back. If somebody cut your wages, sacks your neighbor or sacks you, then you have to organize and fight back. Those are the grass roots battles that step by step will develop a consciousness.

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