Paul Laverty praises UK distributor eOne for making I, Daniel Blake theatrically available to audiences priced-out by mainstream multiplexes…
There’s a dispiriting irony in that the audience I, Daniel Blake represents finds itself priced-out by extortionate cinema ticket prices. The award-winning film from director Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty follows the exploits of the titular 59-year-old title character who, after working as a joiner for most of his life, must turn to the state for help.
His path crosses with Katie, a single mother of two, who has found herself in his hometown of Newcastle having accepted a council flat as the only means to escape a hostel for the homeless in London. She’s now 300 miles from the city she once called home, and he’s in a sort of welfare state no man’s land, their collective anxieties the protagonists in this story of modern-day “striver versus skiver” Britain.
Laverty, Loach’s go-to screenwriter for the past 20 years, always immerses himself in the lives of the characters he creates. You could say he’s a method writer. His latest film The Olive Tree, for example, is set in Spain where Laverty spent time working on chicken farms and getting to know the communities who had lost their precious olive trees to pillaging corporations uprooting them for decoration in office blocks and reception rooms.
For I, Daniel Blake, Laverty stayed closer to home. He’d visit local food banks to see hardship first hand. He saw struggling mothers feeding biscuits to their children after being sanctioned for being a few minutes late, old men selling their furniture in order to eat, and people with stories of critically ill patients being forced to sign on.
He told me about meeting with a Department for Works and Pensions official and being told how staff are bullied and pressurised by management to sanction more and more people. “Is it just bureaucracy, or is it conscious cruelty”, asks Laverty, rhetorically. The result of that journalistic eye for detail is the Palme d’Or-winning film I, Daniel Blake.
The film proved to be a hit with critics and audiences alike, making a handsome profit and becoming Loach’s biggest film in the UK. But distributor eOne wanted to ensure it found the audience that inspired it in the first place. It turned down the opportunity to have a big, glitzy premiere in London, debuting the film in Newcastle instead, and held multiple community screenings around the country often with Laverty, Loach and others involved in the film appearing to discuss I, Daniel Blake afterwards.
Laverty says it was a very noble thing to do and praises eOne on its treatment of the film. “They organised over 500 community screenings up and down the country. If you are on the dole and you are under 25 you get £7.30 a day, so there is no way you are going to buy a ticket to see it [in the cinema]. But if you do see this film in a group, it is very, very special. Me and Ken have been going to all these Q&As afterwards, organised by activists.”
Recently, Laverty was in attendance as 500 teachers had a chance to see the film with a debate following the screening. It was very interesting, he says. “They start telling you about kids who are hungry going to school. I heard about a school where they are not only giving breakfast to the children, but to the families too. You discover more things, and the anger with people and what is going on under the surface.”
Most of the last year has been taken up by I, Daniel Blake forums and screenings with Laverty keen to ensure the film starts positive discussion. Pleasingly, this hasn’t been consigned solely to the UK.
“I have been to the Lincoln Center with 900 people in Manhattan…to Moscow…in Spain they said this was the film of the crisis. So, you begin to see how different countries and different cultures have been using it. There will be photographs of, I, Daniel Blake scribbled in graffiti in France. We did it last week in South Korea.
“The whole thing has been a kind of a snowball really, but very, very enriching debate triggering the views of teachers, lawyers, working with tribunals. I am doing a lot of school screenings. It has really led to a great debate beyond the story, which is exactly what we hoped it would do.”
Written by Dan Stephens
Paul Laverty was speaking to Top 10 Films about The Olive Tree, starring Anna Castillo, Javier Gutiérrez and Pep Ambròs, which is released on dual format Blu-ray & DVD by Eureka Entertainment on May 15 2017.