Film dream team Paul and Ken have a Cannes do attitude

THEIRS is one of the most productive and successful partnerships in all of British filmmaking.

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Producer Rebecca O'Brien, actress Aisling Francios, actor Barry Ward, actress Simone Kirby, director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty attend the Jimmy's Hall screening at the Cannes Film Festival
Producer Rebecca O'Brien, actress Aisling Francios, actor Barry Ward, actress Simone Kirby, director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty attend the Jimmy's Hall screening at the Cannes Film Festival

Glasgow screenwriter Paul Laverty and director Ken Loach have made eleven feature films together and last week they took their latest collaboration, Jimmy's Hall, to the world's most famous film festival, Cannes, where it was among the contenders for the prestigious Palmes d'Or.

Paul describes the experience of going to Cannes as "a bit bonkers", but says it's a fantastic platform for the film.

Cannes has been a second home for him and Loach over the past decade and a half, going back to My Name is Joe in 1998 (a film for which Peter Mullan won best actor), and has brought them great success and recognition.

Paul won the Best Screenplay award there in 2002 for Sweet Sixteen, and Loach picked up the Palmes d'Or in 2006 for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, set during the Irish wars of the 1920s.

That film shares some obvious DNA with Jimmy's Hall, which was inspired by the true story of Jimmy Gralton, who returned to his hometown in County Leitrim in the early 1930s after a decade living in New York.

He reopened the village hall as somewhere for locals to dance and receive education, but came under pressure from the church and the authorities because of his communist views.

Paul came across the story via an old playwright friend and instinctively knew that it would make for a good film.

"Sometimes these wee nuggets just land in your lap and your gut tells you it can be cinematic," he says.

"As soon as I heard it, I knew it would breathe as a story, something with lovely little contradictions and twists.

"I love that it's complex, it's not black and white, and if you tell that little story truthfully, it echoes and resonates throughout the whole country.

"What was lovely about Jimmy when you read about him is that you felt he had a real joy about him.

"He wasn't a sectarian character, he loved life and he loved people and he was a generous man.

"When you're fighting these battles you need to be nourished by fun, otherwise what's the point."

Though he grew up in Scotland, Paul was actually born in Calcutta to a Scottish father and Irish mother, before coming back to Scotland when still a baby.

He attended seminary school for eight years and, after training as a lawyer, moved to Nicaragua in the early 1980s where he worked for a human rights organisation.

This gave him a curiosity to travel and see the world from different points of view, though he didn't plan on becoming a writer.

He said: "It was just after seeing the war, seeing this systematic violence and terror, I was so sick of writing journalistic reports about human rights abuses that I wanted to find another way to tell the story and I thought that fiction and film was a very powerful possibility."

It was following his experiences in Nicaragua that Paul wrote to Loach, even though he admits he knew nothing about the film industry.

He said: "I wanted to have a crack at it. So when I came back to Glasgow after three years I wrote to Ken and he was incredibly open.

"I visited him in London and he didn't care about reputations, didn't care that I hadn't written anything.

"But he's curious, there's a great wonder in the man and he was very interested in what I wanted to try and express."

This eventually led to their first film together, Carla's Song, which starred Robert Carlyle as a Glasgow bus driver who befriends a Nicaraguan woman living in exile in Scotland.

They've made numerous films in Scotland since and Paul speaks of Loach as a very generous collaborator, albeit a very demanding one.

He said: "I think part of the reason Ken has made so many films in Scotland is because he has such respect for the writer, and I'm very comfortable with writing in that rhythm.

"Glasgow always informs my work, even for films that don't necessarily unfold here.

"Whether a story is set in Los Angeles or Bolivia or Possil, it's about trying to make sense of the world."

But as for how he hopes posterity might judge their work together, Paul believes that's for other people to say.

He added: "It's just a relief to try and get the film made. If you start worrying about a legacy you'll become far too self-conscious and it doesn't do you any good, you disappear up your own backside. And you can quote me on that!"

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