“Dare them to censor you”: Ken Loach talks art and activism in I, Daniel Blake and beyond

Ken Loach is one of Britain’s most prominent (and sometimes controversial) political filmmakers and activists. Since the 1960s, his films — such as Cathy Come Home (1966), Kes (1969), Hidden Agenda (1990), and Land and Freedom (1995) — have tackled social struggles, especially those faced by the working class, and sparked debate.

His latest film, I, Daniel Blake, won Loach his second Palme d’Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Written by Loach’s frequent collaborator Paul Laverty, the film is a tragedy of bureaucracy, equal parts Kafka and Dickens, in which Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a 59-year-old carpenter and widower, suffers a heart attack and is ordered not to work by his doctor. He quickly discovers, while trying to collect social benefits, that the layers of inscrutable procedures and forms are all but impossible to navigate. Along the way he befriends a young single mother, Katie (Hayley Squires), who struggles to feed her children after her benefits are “sanctioned” because she was late to a meeting after getting lost.

I spoke with Ken Loach via phone about his work, the future of political filmmaking, and the innovative way I, Daniel Blake is pursuing a wider viewership beyond arthouse audiences.

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