BEAR NECESSITIES: Socially-minded British director Ken Loach can add a Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement to his multiple prizes from Cannes, Venice and other major film festivals.
Loach was honored on Thursday night with a gala event, which included a moving speech from Czech director Jiří Menzel, who called Loach “courageous and rebellious” for his films that both criticize society and humanize their subjects, the ordinary and the oppressed. For his part, Loach cited Menzel and other filmmakers active in Prague in the 1960’s as a major influence. He also warned that “we live in darkening times,” and called for a new united Europe, saying, “if we don’t have a Europe of equality, we won’t have a Europe at all.”
Ten of Loach’s films, from 1966’s “Cathy Come Home” to 2009’s “Looking for Eric” have been screening throughout the Berlinale, and events throughout the week were held to celebrate him. Loach was feted in a reception in the Glashütte Original Lounge; the German watch brand is the sponsor of the festival’s Retrospective and Homage sections. And speaking to a packed room of film fans in a talk on Wednesday, he recalled his early days in the business, musing, “it was alleged – quite wrongly I think – that I was the worst actor in England!” Loach quickly found his niche first in television then a film director, and is known as the founder of British Social Realism. Often cast with non-professional actors, Loach’s films border fiction and documentary, and have resulted in social and policy changes in the UK.
In a Thursday press conference, Loach addressed rumors that “Jimmy’s Hall,” his film that’s currently in post-production, will be his last fiction feature. Admitting that at 77, he did see the movie-making process as requiring a lot of stamina for someone “at the wrong end of the 70s,” nonetheless, “it’s not a privilege that you give up lightly.”
The next day, it was politics as usual for Loach. The director, who was active in founding a new British political party called New Unity, spoke Friday at Berlin’s Haus der Demokratie on the subject of the crisis in Europe and the rise of the New Left.