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Ken Loach on “The Wind That Shakes The Barley”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “The Wind That Shakes The Barley,” IFC Films, 2007]

Ken Loach must have an awfully big trophy case. The 70-year-old British writer/director has won enough accolades for three filmmakers, including two British Independent Film Awards, two Césars, a slew of prizes from the Berlin, Portland and Venice Film Festivals and several awards from Cannes, including, oh, the Palme d’Or for his latest film, “The Wind the Shakes the Barley,” a story of two brothers in the IRA during the 1920s.

I spoke to Loach on the eve of the US release of “The Wind the Shakes the Barley”; he used the word “balance” frequently during our conversation — balancing the political content in the film, balancing the needs of one audience against another. It’s one possible explanation for why the film, for all its anger, never loses focus, never becomes a simple laundry list of injustices, and never forgets the human cost of war.

Is there anything more satisfying than winning a Palme d’Or? As awards go, it seems like one of the best.

It is one of the best. You don’t make films to win prizes, but it did give the film a seal of approval. It was very satisfying, particularly because it’s for the whole film, the actors, the writer, and the producer, the cameraman, everybody.

What drew you the material?

Well, it’s an extraordinary story of how people who were not professional soldiers, who were farmhands and clerks and shop assistants, drove the British empire, the most powerful empire in the world, out of their country. In and of itself, that’s a brilliant story. And then how that conflict turned into a civil war and why that happened, and the tragedy of that, is a very important story as well. I had it in the back of mind to do it for a long, long time.

Are Damien and Teddy [two brothers who are the central characters of the film, played by Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney, respectively] based on specific people who were in the IRA?

No, but there were brothers who fought each other. There were two brothers in the town we filmed in called the Hales Brothers. The one who was anti-treaty had his fingernails pulled out by the British. The one who was pro-treaty was assassinated.

The story is about huge political issues, but at the same time, it’s also about these two brothers and their story. How do you balance those different aspects? It’s got to be difficult.

Yes, it is. It’s a balance but, in the end, the personal has to take priority, because otherwise you’re stopping the film to point something out to the audience and that’s just bad work. When you’re looking at the script, you’re thinking, “Well we’ve got to have a scene where we show this or that.” But actually, when it’s all cut together, the total effect makes things a lot more implicit and you don’t need to spell things out. I’ve found in the past that dialogue you put in in order to make a point you invariably cut out, because you don’t need it.

What’s the reaction to the film been like in England?

Well the right wing was apoplectic and seriously disturbed. There were a handful of right-wing commentators who just poured abuse on the film, particularly when it won the award at Cannes, because they hated this view of history being approved. A typical comment was, “I haven’t seen the film and I don’t intend to see the film. And I don’t need to read “Mein Kaumpf” to know what Hitler was like.” This was typical! It’s not an argument, it’s just abuse. You can’t discuss that! Apart from that, the reaction has been very good. In Ireland, it was amazing and really warm and supportive.

Watching the film, I was particularly struck by how often the soldiers are simply pointing their guns and yelling at the Irish. At some times there seems like there’s more screaming than actual dialogue in the film.

It’s the army technique! The British soldiers in the film are, by and large, real ex-soldiers. The Army wouldn’t help us, the reservists wouldn’t help us, so we had to find ex-soldiers. And I said to them, “How would you deal with this situation in real life?” They said this is what you’d do. This ‘wall of sound’ is a technique to disorientate the people. It isn’t about individuals being brutal, it’s a technique they’re taught.

I remember when I was given military training, you were taught how to bayonet an enemy soldier, and you had to shout as you were doing it. It’s part of the drill. You put the blade in, twist it around and you’re shouting all the time! And the shouting is, as I said, to disorientate and to confuse and to not give them time to settle. Cause if they settle, they’ll fight back.

Despite all the violence in the film, the most intense scene may be the one where the members of the IRA just sit and debate the treaty that’s just been passed [making the Irish state a dominion of the British empire].

Yeah, it was a very enjoyable scene to do. We’d had sessions beforehand where we talked about why people would argue from a certain point of view, and what their best arguments were. Everybody came to the scene not only with the script in their mind but with their own ideas that they could supplement. The substance of the scene is scripted, but I ran it like a real meeting and we filmed it like a documentary.

There’s an interesting line of dialogue in the film that goes, “It’s easy to know what you’re up against. It’s another thing to know what you’re for.” Do you agree with that statement?

I think it’s absolutely true of the vast majority of people. People will see injustice, or they’ll see the illegal war in Iraq or they’ll see exploitation of people and they’ll say, “This must end. This must stop.” But how do you construct a society to put in its place? That’s one of the interesting things that comes up at times like this. When an imperialist country is being forced out, the question becomes “What kind of society can we build?” And that’s the big question. In Ireland, some people weren’t into it, they just wanted the Brits out. Some people want the society to stay the same, they just want to be the ones in power. All that is up for grabs, but it was in many colonial struggles. The American constitution, for God’s sake; it wasn’t just about getting the British out, it was about Thomas Payne and the rights of man and wanting a different kind of country. And you’ve ended up with George W. [laughs]

“The Wind That Shakes The Barley” opens in limited release on March 16 (official site).

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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