Ken Loach’s film the Navigators may be a decade old, but the themes of redundancy and uncertainty clearly resonated with the audience at Derby Quad’s special screening this week.
Set in Sheffield in the mid-1990s, it tells the story of a group of railway workers whose industry is being privatised. Loach is known for his rich characterisation and social realism and this film is no exception: we see the banter of the railway workers, the real choices they have to make and the relationships they have with their families and with each other.
It’s also a highly political film. We are invited to laugh at the absurdity of corporate jargon creeping into the previously state-run railway industry and we are also shown the potentially devastating consequences of privatisation, particularly when safety is compromised to save money.
Watching this film in Derby, it is almost impossible not to see parallels with the ongoing problems at the city’s Bombardier plant. Earlier this year, the firm was forced to shed 1,400 jobs after losing out on the £1.4billion contract to German-based Siemens. It goes without saying that this will have a terrible effect on the workers, their families and the local economy.
The screening also included a Q&A with Ken Loach, along with a short film he made as part of a collaborative project called 11’09”01 – September 11. This project saw 12 directors create short films in response to the September 11th attacks in New York. Loach was heavily criticised for his contribution, presumably because it was seen as anti-American at a time when American patriotism was king.
Loach decided to depict the 1973 coup d’état in Chile which also happened on September 11th. The military coup led to the downfall of President Salvador Allende and a period of unrest. With help from the Americans, Pinochet took power and imposed his brutal regime on the Chilean people until 1990. This short film is told through the eyes of a Chilean musician who escaped to London and it is an incredibly powerful elegy about a period of history which is often overlooked.
Ken Loach (picture by Graham Lucas Commons)