Paul Laverty Q&A: I, Daniel Blake

21 October 2016

Winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, I, Daniel Blake proves that director Ken Loach has lost none of his touch. This is an important, moving film about the way ordinary people are being treated by the bureaucracy of our modern welfare state. We spoke to writer Paul Laverty about the film's origins and his plans for the future.

We're delighted to be able to offer free tickets for our unwaged customers at all screenings of I, Daniel Blake on Wed 2 November; our normal unwaged discount applies to the rest of the film's run. I, Daniel Blake screens at DCA from Friday 28 October.

How did I, Daniel Blake come about?

How Ken and myself work together is very organic. We are very close friends so we are always in conversation about things (mostly nothing to do with film) and sending each other cuttings or articles or whatever. The film before I, Daniel Blake was called Jimmy’s Hall, set in Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s. In period, every single frame, from someone’s hair, clothes, to the streets has to be recreated. In this new one we wanted to do something smacking of the contemporary, of the moment. We were also very aware of the decisions made by the new Coalition Government after the banking crisis of making welfare a prime target for the cuts. According to opinion polls most people thought that up to 27% of the welfare budget was fraudulently claimed. In fact it was less than 1%. This gap between reality and perception was fascinating. Little wonder given the campaign of vilification against those on benefits. We found out from academics and NGOs that the disabled had suffered six times more cuts proportionately than anyone else. 

It got us thinking about the working poor, those on welfare, and the rise of food banks.

But there was a key trip Ken and myself made to Ken’s childhood town of Nuneaton. Ken has a close relationship there with a charity that helps the young homeless get off the streets. Through them we talked to lots of young people. One young lad we met was called Jack who had a remarkable story. He had ended up in a zero-hour contract job. Sometimes he would get work on a little run, and then it would dry up. It threw his life into chaos. But in the most casual of manner he started talking about the experience of being hungry. Sometimes he would be without food for three days. It got us thinking about the working poor, those on welfare, and the rise of food banks.It turns out that Jack’s story was very different from I, Daniel Blake, but the struggle for the basics, for food, heat and shelter, is somehow implicit. We sensed this new project would be raw and elemental. That and many other trips, especially to food banks up and down the country, set a tone.

What does it mean to you that we are offering free screenings for unwaged customers?

An enormous thanks to the cinema and distributors eOne. People forget how little the dole money is. If I remember correctly it is just over seven pounds per day if the claimant is under 25. Seven pounds to pay for every expense, including heat, food, clothes and travel - so there's no way that they can afford to pay for a ticket in the cinema.

The fact that those closest to the experience in the story [...] have a chance to watch it like everyone else means a great deal to us. 

It is a great joy to sit in a cinema and experience films on the big screen, with perfect sound and alongside the public. The fact that those closest to the experience in the story in I, Daniel Blake have a chance to watch it like everyone else means a great deal to us. 

What do you hope that the film will achieve?

This is in the hands of the audience, and I can only hope that it is an experience they can get something from. I hope those who have suffered at the hands of the Department for Work and Pensions, those who have been sanctioned and those who have gone hungry will feel that we have have done them justice. I hope it will shine a light on systematic intentional cruelty which no decent society should allow against many of our most vulnerable fellow citizens. Change can only come about by public pressure - I hope the film helps a little, but I can't make assumptions.

How involved are you in the process once the film moves into production?

I am a close friend of Ken's and I am involved the whole way through from start to finish, from preparation, locations, casting, at the shoot and then to more discussions with Ken and our wonderful editor Jonathan Morris. It is all very organic, and inclusive - not many writers have this luck with such a close collaborator. This is how I worked with producing upcoming film The Olive Tree with Icíar Bollaín. Collaboration, if it works well is a real joy and I never take it for granted. 

What can we expect to see from you next in cinemas?

As mentioned above, I am delighted that a film called The Olive Tree, directed by Spanish director Icíar Bollaín will be distributed in the UK in March 2017. It has some marvellous Spanish actors and played really well in UK festivals after a successful run in Europe. I hope it will give the audience something to laugh at too. We had such an adventure making this film among some of the most beautiful olive groves in the world. Some of the trees were planted around the time of Christ - they blew my tiny mind! 

You can see I, Daniel Blake from Fri 28 October - Thu 3 November. Screenings are free for unwaged customers on Wed 2 November, and our normal discount for unwaged customers applies to the rest of the film's run. 

We're holding a special schools preview of Icíar Bollaín's The Olive Tree, written by Paul, on Thu 27 October as part of Discovery Film Festival.

The answer to Paul's first question was given with permission from Paul and the Writer's Guild of Great Britain (WGGB). You can read their full interview with Paul here. 

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