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Berlin Interview: Ken Loach Says Critics Missed "Bias" Of 'Zero Dark Thirty,' Talks 'Spirit Of 45,' Sexiness Of Socialism & More

by Jessica Kiang
February 22, 2013 9:56 AM
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And do you believe documentaries can be as compelling to the viewer as fiction films?
They have different functions, don’t they? You can crystallize things in fiction. It’s more complex because the relationships contain the social, the political the personal -- everything becomes crystallized in the relationships between people, it’s a very complex web, whereas in documentary it’s just people telling. And that can be complex too, but the filmmaking is easy, because the complexity is in the interviewee. There’s value in both.

But are you at all worried at being accused of bias by presenting such a definite point of view, especially in documentary format?
Don’t you think “Zero Dark Thirty” is biased or all these other pro-CIA films where the white American is the hero? Of course they are, they’re massively biased, but the bias is more subtle. But the critics are so stupid they don’t see it and that stuns me. I mean, why would anybody want to make a film about the hunting down and killing of somebody? The purpose is to keep the devil alive, to keep the devil of Bin Laden alive -- this one’s still got some mileage. And the hint that torture is valuable…

Art comes from a particular time, from a particular culture, a particular perspective, that’s all contained within those pro-American films. 

However you do have a great deal of faith, as shown in your choice of interviewees, in "ordinary" people. The politicians and pundits get less focus than the miner, the nurse etc
I think history lives through people, it’s more human. It doesn’t live through academics… I would hope that people will connect to the ordinary people. There’s that elderly lady talking about wanting something not based on greed. I can connect to that. I can connect to the doctor who just wants to treat his patients, he doesn’t want to be dependent on their insurance, or the old guy who says the system’s rotten and if people would only realize the strength we have...

So how do we reconcile the instinct for collectivism with the eventual abolition of most of the progress made during that era?
We know we are a manipulated society but we underestimate the extent of it, because we are so manipulated to act against our own interests. People’s instinct to be good neighbours that’s fine -- nobody attacks that. But people’s instinct to be good neighbours at work and make a union and then say “We don’t want to work for 3 euros an hour” -- that’s attacked, because the trade union threatens the power of big business. The instinct is the same, the instinct to join together.

But isn’t there also an instinct toward self-interest?
Maybe. So you want to create the rules that endorse the good and minimize the bad. But I think basically, if you put a group of people together they’ll discuss something and the good tends to predominate. It’s only if they’re driven by other considerations and they can be made in fear, like of immigrants or something, that it turns nasty.

So you believe people’s instincts are good but they can be manipulated for bad ends?
It’s my experience, yes. And the way they did it in Britain was by the police beating it out of them. The police truncheons killed the unions; also weak leadership from the top who were afraid to lead any resistance. But the privatizations were happening while the union members were getting beaten and those pictures we weren’t allowed to see. All you heard about during the strike was the violence of the pickets, the violence of the miners, and in fact the reverse was true.

There was one famous instance in the BBC. There was one of the biggest battles during the miner’s strike, there were lines of police and it was a summer’s day and the miners were wearing T-shirts, jeans, [light] shoes, and the two sides confronted each other. The police horses charged through the ranks and started beating the miners, and in response the miners picked up what was ever to hand, a stone or a stick, and flung them back.

When the BBC put the film out they started with the miners throwing the stones, and then they showed the pictures of the police horses charging as though they were charging in response to the throwing of stones, and actually it was the other way round.

We hear you may return to Ireland for your next project?
Yes, well, we’re scratching around, we don’t know yet. I’ve got to find the energy for one more. It’s fiction again -- I’ll work with [writer and frequent Loach collaborator] Paul Laverty again -- we’ve become joined at the hip. I found over the years I’ve worked with one or two writers whose vision I share and Paul is that. He takes [things] a lot further and I’ve been really lucky to work with him.

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  • Haji | February 28, 2013 6:32 PMReply

    Ken Loach is the worst kind of racist, in the past he has tried to get filmmakers from Israel banned from film festivals just because of their country of origin. That's rights, he wanted to exclude them not because of who they were or their political beliefs but only because they were Israeli. I know you socialists love him but he is an awful human being, go ahead and fawn over his film celebrating the creation of the current welfare state in the UK. How is the NHS treating the elderly in England? Do a little research and find out.

  • Dee | April 9, 2013 6:30 AM

    He wanted to exclude them for the same reasons artists boycotted South Africa for so long. Its not personal, its political. The legitimacy of the Israeli state is questionable and its current functioning depends on its citizens (all of whom are ex soldiers, soldiers or soldiers to be) accepting consciously or otherwise a state of gross inequality. By the way, my girlfriend is South African and my daughter is half Israeli so please don't go down the road of telling me I don't know what I'm talking about. I have also worked with older adults in an NHS setting and I worked hard for them.

  • Nick | February 26, 2013 5:00 AMReply

    Ken Loach is spot on indeed. The coterie of American film critics who's favorite movies last year were features like Django Unchained (a childish and moronic gore-fest), Argo (a liberal self serving fantasy) and ZDT (a childish but fancy videogame rip-off selling D.C. torture policies) are mostly clueless and unaware. And yes you can make a generalization and talk about critics as a group in this case, just look at the overwhelming positive consensus these movies achieved, at least according to Metacritic and Rottentomatoes.

    But I don't think it's an issue of stupidity. American film critics are not only a "symptom", but also enablers of a culture that seems obsessed with violence, war, religious superstition, video games and comic books. The narrow political discussion doesn't allow diverse opinions and everything gets reduced to simplistic black or white terms like us vs. them, good vs. evil, Democrat vs. Republican, Fox News vs. The Daily Show, Truthers vs. Birthers etc. Even the left that tries to release itself from the fruitless Democratic Party straightjacket marginalizes itself by letting in pot cultist, low rent postmodern feminists and worthless Alex Jones-type conspiracy theorist into the mix. Ken Loach comes from a different political culture that might be in a defensive path but is still engaged in the world and in the global struggle for justice and equality. It is easy for him to observe the lack of political and global awareness among all these film critics who fawned over the overrated Argo and ZDT.

    Thank God for the Ken Loach'es of the world I say without believing in God.

  • RNL | February 23, 2013 2:42 PMReply

    There's no dichotomy or contradiction between the 'instinct' for collectivism and the 'instinct' of self-interest. It is in the self-interest of working people to have a higher standard of living, to work fewer hours, to receive higher wages, to have more control over the content of their work. The only way for working people to achieve these goals is collective action, to organise collectively and demand these things from their bosses. The realisation of workers' self-interests lies in the strategy of collective organisation.

  • Alan B | February 22, 2013 6:50 PMReply

    Yeah, I am sorry, but there has been plenty of criticism of 'ZDT' ... and for the exact reasons that Loach has stated. It's like he read two reviews and then decided to call critics everywhere "stupid". They ARE stupid, but not for the inane, nonsense reason that Loach suggests.

  • RNL | February 23, 2013 2:44 PM

    There's been a lot of criticism of the portrayal of torture in the film, but I haven't seen any of the general righteousness of the war, of the CIA, of American foreign policy, or even of the hunt for Bin Laden.

  • Sarah | February 22, 2013 11:34 AMReply

    He crushed it on ZDT.

  • Eric | February 22, 2013 11:10 AMReply

    His points on ZD30 are actually spot on.

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