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Ken Loach • Director

'More respect for socially-minded films"


- The English director was the guest speaker in a debate organised in a Roman high school, during which he spoke out against a war with Iraq and called for more socially-committed films

Ken Loach • Director

It's standing room only at the Rome high school packed with students who came to see the latest film by British director, Ken Loach - Sweet Sixteen [+see also:
film profile
and get the chance to speak with the great man himself.
His entrance is greeted with a resounding round of applause and a standing ovation. Then everyone settles down and what turns out to be an extremely political debate begins.

The first question was aimed straight at the heart of the film: ”Under normal circumstances, being 16 is supposed to be the best time of your life. Why does your film make it all so dramatic?
"It’s true that is an important time in your life. At 16 you are an adult. My film is about the change from childhood to adulthood. Liam, the main character, still has a few hopes and illusions, but as the story unfolds, we see him gradually develop a conscience. That said, Liam’s story should also be viewed from another angle: he did not become a cynic and as resigned to the inevitability of his fate like his step-father and grandfather before him. Unlike them, Liam has a chance. Unfortunately for Liam and all the other Liams in the world, the way out is limited and usually leads right up a one-way street. The main question is: what kind of adults are we? In recent decades our social system created enormous social disparity and distress.
In this film we have three generations of unemployed people. It is up to us to change things. I think that marching for peace can contribute to that change. On Saturday we witnessed a truly enormous event and I believe that our leaders cannot be allowed to forget that.
However, we must not make the mistake of settling for complacency. The overwhelming majority of people who said "no to war" now has the opportunity to their respective governments' economic policies on their heads. Giving up the fight for a better world would have the most serious consequences both for us and for future generations."

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At this point in the proceedings, a girl comes to the microphone and asks: "Juvenile distress is a difficult and complex issue. Is it possible to talk about it without being rhetorical? And how do you reconcile filmmaking with being committed to important social causes?"
"The message a film puts across must have some roots in history. The characters don't need to explain or justify their actions. A film does not need captions.
In Sweet Sixteen you understand immediately that Liam and his family's world is plagued by a chronically high rate of unemployement. Obviously there is a big drug problem too. As for social commitment, cinema must stun and entertain and stimulate thought. I am not against big commercial productions: I’d love it if socially committed films received equal treatment. European cinema is original and has the ability to express itself in a variety of ways. The problem lies in its being in competition with its powerful American counterpart. One should always listen to every side of the story. Unfortunately that is not always possible because ordinary people don't always have a platform to speak from."

Loach answers several more questions but there is one that we would dearly like to ask: given the interest and plaudits he received these Roman students, why on earth was Sweet Sixteen released with an "x-certificate” in the UK?

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