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

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist February 22, 2013 at 9:56AM

One of the quieter debuts at the Berlin International Film Festival last week was of a small talking-heads-and-archive-footage documentary about postwar Britain’s socialist reconstruction called “The Spirit of ‘45” (you can read our review here). But while it feels destined for a life on the small screen, the name above the title alone meant a festival bow was appropriate; it's the latest from British director Ken Loach, recipient of the Palme D’or at Cannes in 2006 for “The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” and one of the most well-respected and consistent proponents of the school of social realist filmmaking.
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Zero Dark Thirty Jessica Chastain set photo

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. 

Spirit of '45 crowd

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.

Ken Loach Paul Laverty
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.

This article is related to: Ken Loach, The Spirit Of '45, Berlin International Film Festival, Interview, Zero Dark Thirty