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Ken Loach's 'I, Daniel Blake' wins hearts of jury and Cannes Palme d'Or

 

Ken Loach's  "I,Daniel Blake" at Cannes
Ken Loach's "I,Daniel Blake" at Cannes
Courtesy of Festival de Cannes, used with permission
I, Daniel Blake
Moira Sullivan
San Francisco Examiner
May 23, 2016 
Reprinted with permission
 
Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake” won the highest honor at Cannes May 22– the Palme d’Or for the "69th Festival de Cannes". The decision was announced by the President of the Jury George Miller assisted by actor Mel Gibson. Gibson starred in Miller's original 'Mad Max' from 1979.
 
Daniel (Dave Johns), Katie (Haley Squires) and her two children Dylan (Dylan McKiernan) and Daisy (Briana Shann)
Courtesy of Festival de Cannes, used with permission

This is the British octogenarian’s second Palme d’Or since "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" (2006) and his tenth nomination since "Looks and Smiles" (1981).

The choice of “I, Daniel Blake” was well deserved for the film deals with the treatment of working class people in an ensemble of non actors and actors. The story is about a middle aged carpenter (Dave Johns) who has suffered a heart attack and given doctors orders not to return to work. Despite that, the unemployment office requires him to look for work and denies him benefits when he is even declared “fit for work”. Daniel tries to adapt to an inhumane system of computer forms rather than humans to sort out a huge bureaucratic misunderstanding. Daniel is, however, penalized for the computer skills he doesn’t have and looking for work he can’t accept because of his medical condition.

That doesn’t stop him from reaching out to help others, such as the single mother Kattie (Hayley Squires) with two children. She has been forced to relocate from London because of her low income status yet can't pay to turn on the electricity in the new social housing. Daniel helps her and her children adjust to Newcastle and takes them to the local food bank. According to Loach, the people in the food bank in the "neorealist" film tradition had worked in that office in real life and he tried to create the same sense of reality throughout the film.

Ken Loach said at the press conference for the film earlier in the week that there is “so much unemployment in England and people are made to feel 'it’s your own fault'". “The most vulnerable bear the brunt - people who are disabled, the mentally ill", he explained. Script writer Paul Laverty added that these are people who get “six times more of the cuts than every one else” and who are “easy targets”. But the film was not about just showing human suffering. The director stated that the writing and the acting should be a combination of reality and human compassion so that the audiences can adequately relate to the film. "I, Daniel Blake" is shot in the order of sequence and the script is precisely written but with a sense of improvisation.

Beyond the politics of the film, Loach advocated that “the real left in Europe should reject the European Union or deals with America that prioritize business". The effects of globalization is adversely affecting many European countries today and there is widespread fear and finger pointing at the working class for allegedly taxing the system. Loach provides statistics that welfare recipients account for only 0.5% of expenditures.

A journalist from Kurdistan moved by the approach to depicting social problems in Loach's cinema asked if he and Laverty had any plans to make a film about his country. Laverty replied that “Iraq had indeed “pulverized the refugees” in Kurdistan Such a film should be “a good story written by those who understand the history, language and poetry of the area with poignant moments that help to relate the situation.

Loach said that European countries should use cinema to share good stories, which will help the film industries. It was not easy to acquire film financing but according to producer Rebecca O'Brian there was European and British support for his film.

The veteran director said he chose to set the film in Newcastle –" a great city with a history and tradition of working class struggles such as in the shipyards". He said that the British neoliberal project of deregulation and privatization is brutal and that work and the environment are constantly under attack. In two weeks Britain will vote whether to leave the European Union; Loach cautioned against this for "if we leave, individual countries will undermine our efforts to fight neoliberalism". "What 's more", he cautioned, "the far right governments will succeed if we leave". The question is whether to fight from within or without or make alliances with other European left movements. If not, "this is how the far right rises". Loach has been around long enough to see this happen in his lifetime and warns that it could and can happen again.

Regarding the story telling of "I Daniel Blake", Loach quoted the dramatist Bertolt Brecht –"I always thought the simplest of words should suffice if I say which things break my heart". And, adds Loach, "makes you angry". This clearly is what happened with spectators who treasure this brilliant and socially engaging film at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The film broke and won the hearts of critics and jury alike.

 

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