Ken Loach: poverty doesn’t occur ‘by accident’
Malcom Lewis: Sorry We Missed You a rare film about pay and working conditions, and about how political that is. It’s representative – about a care worker, a delivery driver, and companies that transfer costs on to their staff. Thinking about it, I couldn’t, off the top of my head, come up with another recent British film, about working conditions. Apart from The Navigators, which you made in 2001. They both show the human effects of economic decisions, of privatisation. How did it come about?
Ken Loach: It came out of I, Daniel Blake. Paul Laverty, the writer, did most of the research, but we both visited food banks. Many of the people using them were the ‘working poor’. That became the focus of our follow up. The care worker and the driver are representative in that very many other people will share and recognise their experiences. It is about work, the insecurity and uncertainties, and how it affects their life as a family with children. But they’re not cardboard cut outs. It’s not a ‘typical’ care worker, a ‘typical’ delivery driver. They’re individual, real people.
ML: They are. And not just the family. The people they know and work with too. The drivers at the depot, Abby’s clients, Seb and his mates. They’re all very real. You didn’t use professional actors?
KL: We shot it in Newcastle and they’re all people from the area. At the delivery depot they’re all drivers or ex-drivers. The people that Abby visits don’t, though, in their real lives, have care workers. The lady who hides in the cupboard is actually very bright and lively, with a mind as sharp as a pin.
ML: It is shocking that such a fundamental thing, organisation of work, and its impact on our lives, in and out of work, gets hardly any attention on tv, in mainstream newspapers and magazines, in film.
KL: Because they represent the interests of the people who own the delivery companies, who benefit from the privatisation of care and the NHS.
ML: How representative is the delivery company in the film? We’ve all become familiar with the big companies – UPS, DHL. Yours takes a ‘D’ and a ‘P’ from these and it’s called PDF, with the slogan ‘Parcels Delivered Fast’. Is the subcontracting of costs and risks onto their drivers common with the large delivery companies, the household names?
KL: It’s very common. We spoke to drivers, managers, and we didn’t take extreme examples. It’s similar for care workers. People who are on the minimum wage, and then aren’t paid for travel time. So, their real pay is much less than the minimum wage.
ML: There’s hope. Workers in the CWU, the Communications Workers Union, voted overwhelmingly to strike in the privatised Royal Mail. Over working conditions, job insecurity, and pay. And Sorry We Missed You is released in the week that an election is announced.
KL: The most significant election since Thatcher became PM. So much is in the balance.
ML: Your film has a role here. Johnson would like a Brexit election.
KL: Extinction Rebellion recently broke through in the press and on tv. Emphasized that the state of the climate is a real emergency.
ML: You hope the film might now help widen the debate?
KL: We need real political discussion. About public investment in a green economy. So we need publicly-owned, integrated public transport. We need to build green council housing. We hope the film can help with solidarity between people. By showing a family’s experiences, and that it doesn’t come about by accident, by chance. Austerity and privatization hurt people. So we need to restore public spending, and trades union rights. Transform care – as part of the NHS.
ML: What sort of a release will Sorry We Missed You get? I, Daniel Blake had a wide release.
KL: It’s in all the main cities at first. It then depends on audience turnout.
ML: I, Daniel Blake was also seen outside of art-house cinemas. Outside of cinemas even.
KL: It had 700 community screenings. With an average attendance of 100 people. That’s never happened before. For Sorry We Missed You we have trades union sponsorship, and we hope we can do the same again.
ML: Show it to CWU branches?
KL: Exactly. Wherever we can.
ML: You’re politically committed. You’re a socialist. You see that Labour has changed in that direction with Jeremy Corbyn as leader. In the last week I’ve seen you on TV three times – including Question Time and Newsnight. I don’t normally watch them – they’re so biased in their personnel and comment. So your voice is very refreshing for the audience.
KL: I try. I do what I can.
ML: You’re very busy. After you made Jimmy’s Hut, you announced you were going to retire from making feature films. But you’ve since made two of your best films. Have you plans for another film
KL: If I’m still standing. I really don’t know. We’ve nothing specific in mind, unlike after making I, Daniel Blake. I don’t know if I can go through it all again.
ML: Do you have any advice for a young politically committed film maker? How do you get going?
KL: Work in the business, learn how to do things, learn the skills. Be a professional. You can’t make it as an amateur. Join BECTU, the trades union. And try to get people around you with similar ideas. Work as a team – producer, writer, director. I’ve been lucky, I’ve been one part of a brilliant team.
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