Cannes, Ken Loach & the importance of Palme d’Or winner ‘I, Daniel Blake’

As some of you may know, for my day job (when I am not cleaning up poo, vomit and dribble) I work in the entertainment industry, and as part of my job every year I attend the Cannes Film Festival.*

This year (2016) the main award at the festival, the Palm d’Or, was won by British director Ken Loach for his welfare state attacking film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’. Although at the time of writing I have not seen the film myself (believe it or not I am working all day and night when in Cannes and so I don’t actually get to see any films! humph!) I was lucky enough to be involved in running an event which featured a panel discussion with the film’s producer Rebecca O’Brien and two stars, Daniel Johns and Hayley Squires. **

In addition to discussing the unique experience of working with Ken Loach (which sounds like a fascinating albeit quite unorthodox process, especially from the perspective of actor Johns, for whom this was his first ever acting role – possibly a subject for another blog!) the main thrust of the session was focused on the real world issues that inspired the film and in particular the problems with the U.K. welfare state and how under our current government it really is not fit for purpose. Actor Hayley Squires, who in the film plays a single parent struggling to get through the red tape of welfare that threatens to starve her family, was genuinely inspiring when discussing her research into the role and the reality of our “food bank” economy. In particular her account of meeting with people at the very bottom of our economic pyramid and experiencing first hand the degrading and dehumanising effect this has upon the most vulnerable in our society was really moving and affecting.

It got me thinking about how this relates in some way to the experience my wife and I had during the birth of our son, and how the way she was treated by the overtired, overworked and underfunded staff in the maternity ward was at times apparently similarly lacking in a sense of humanity and care. I have written before about this subject (not without some small controversy) but it seems to me that right across our society, from the NHS to the education system, from elderly care to job seeker services, the UK now has a culture and system that almost inevitably leads to an endemic lack of care for people. With the government led focus upon to hitting targets, ticking boxes and ensuring that all the paperwork is in order, it seems that the most important thing – the wellbeing of people – has been forgotten. Another example of this would be the massive uproar recently regarding SATS tests which I am sure you have seen in the press…

I am not claiming to have the solution, and am in no way suggesting that another political party would certainly solve all the ills of society, but am just glad that a film about a challenging subject matter that holds a mirror up to our society has not only been made (as god knows how hard it is for anything of artistic value to get funding these days!), but has won a major award meaning (hopefully) a lot more people will go to see it and learn something. It will never compete with the endless sequels and superhero remakes that now dominate the box office, but even if this award gives it a small bump in viewership, in my opinion this can only be a good thing.

*I know this sounds very glamorous, but believe me it really isn’t.

** The full session from the BFI UK Film Centre is now online here, so do give it a watch if you have a spare 45 mins! https://vimeo.com/166696947

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