Byline: Julie L. Belcove
NEW YORK — English director Ken Loach, celebrated in Europe for his left-wing portrayals of the working class, was aghast when he saw the poster for his latest film, “Land and Freedom.”
“Much to my horror, they put ‘A Ken Loach Film’ on it and I hate that,” he says. “It’s just not true. There is no such thing as a film that is only the director’s property. It’s the actors’, the cameraman’s. It’s everybody’s. It’s even the person’s who makes the coffee.”
Sound unusual coming from an industry in which the average ego is the size of Montana? Well, Loach claims a socialist-director is not an oxymoron. On the contrary, he calls the image of an authoritarian filmmaker “propaganda,” and adds, “I would imagine a director like that wouldn’t make very good films because the process is collaborative.”
His style of working is also atypical. When he auditioned Ian Hart for “Land and Freedom,” which opened Friday, Loach didn’t bother to see “Backbeat,” in which the young actor received good reviews for his portrayal of John Lennon.
“Seeing someone else’s work is not very helpful,” Loach says. “You don’t know how he was directed. I’d rather respond to someone in a room.”
So the two chatted, and Hart improvised.
“A reading is crap,” Loach insists.
The director cast Hart in the lead role of a young Englishman who joins the fight against Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Many of the other cast members weren’t actors at all; they were carpenters, electricians, teachers and such.
When it came time to start shooting, Loach refused to give the cast the script. Instead, he doled out scenes a day or two before filming them, a technique he says mimics life.
“It’s just more fun,” he says. “They were running a book, taking bets on who was going to get killed.”
Because the actors didn’t have access to the whole story, Loach had to film in sequence, which he says allowed for more spontaneity. A film shot in jumbled order — the manner most directors use — “stops being an organic process and becomes a dry reconstruction of some storyboard,” Loach says.
He employed the same start-to-finish technique for his current project, about a Nicaraguan refugee girl in the 1980s, which just wrapped.
“I should be in the cutting room now,” he says with the slightly nervous laugh of a man who has been making almost a film a year since 1989. “It’s about time I drew my breath for a few moments and reassess.”
Making feature films since 1968, Loach has garnered a case full of awards from Cannes and elsewhere for such movies as “Riff-Raff,” “Fatherland” and “Hidden Agenda.”
The son of an electrician, he was raised in England’s industrial Midlands. His work keeps him in London during the week, but he joins his wife and four children in Bath on the weekends.
Frail-looking and soft-spoken, with a drawn face and a small frame, the 60-ish Loach says he is unconcerned that he will be labeled a propagandist rather than an artist.
“My films are less propagandist than Schwarzenegger movies or James Bond movies, which propagate the idea that a lone man with a gun can solve all the problems, or that Russia is an evil empire,” he says. “The most propagandist are the most mainstream, with subtexts glorifying individual wealth and justifying violence.”
Despite his strident politics, Loach has no delusions of changing the world with a movie.
“You can change things with a political movement,” he says. “A film can make a small contribution — but nothing more.”
Asked whether he has any inclination to do the Hollywood thing, Loach responds, “None whatsoever.” Then he reconsiders. “Well, I could use the money to pay off an overdraft.”