Harrowing war at home for agents of exploitation

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Ian Soutar talks to ground-breaking director Ken Loach about his latest film Route Irish

DIRECTOR Ken Loach and his screenwriter Paul Lavery have pulled off the trick of making a revealing film about Iraq in which the action of the film takes place elsewhere.

Route Irish is the story of two childhood friends from Liverpool, Frankie and Fergus, who become soldiers and then contractors working for a private security firm in Baghdad.

When Frankie is mysteriously killed, Fergus resolves to stop at nothing to find out the truth. But his passport has been confiscated by the police so he has to do all his investigations without leaving Liverpool.

We see events in Iraq through various media - incidents filmed on a mobile phone, YouTube footage, Skype video conversations.

Loach and his crew spent a week in Jordan filming the sequences of the story from Iraq where a number of Iraqi refugees were recruited to act out the incident at the heart of the story. The mobile phone footage starts with a happy family birthday and then captures an atrocity by the British contractors. A woman who plays the grieving mother of the victims is also heard making an impassioned phone call.

“For that sequence, we just phoned her up in Jordan from here and got this fantastic reaction,” explained the director in Sheffield last week.” It was the simplest way of doing it.”

All this new technology would seem ideal for a moviemaker like Ken Loach whose films have an edgy realism. The director begs to differ.

“I think there are dangers,” he says. “When you film something it comes down to framing and light and movement. What you can do on a mobile phone doesn’t change that, it’s still what is in the frame. I like the photographic quality of film. It may seem mechanical but there is a more subtle quality.

“If you are showing something raw and unadulterated the best way of revealing that is to light it well and show it to its best advantage.”

Route Irish is fundamentally a thriller, but it is also a Ken Loach film. “In exploring the killing you discover what is going on in Iraq,” he said.

“We wanted to do something about the war which got to its real objective – the greed of the big corporations and politicians and their attempt to re-write the economy of that country. We tried to balance a number of things. There are the millions of Iraqis who have been killed and we wanted to show that tragedy on a massive scale and also show some of the people from here who suffer post-traumatic stress.

“The soldiers are coming home and the contractors are taking over on behalf of the big corporations having had the war made in their interest Some of the contractors were doing good work but they are agents of exploitation. They are both the exploited and the exploiters.”

The screenplay of Route Irish with production notes, stills and essays on aspects of Iraq and private security contractors by Mark Townsend, Haifa Zangana and Mike Phipps is published by Route at £8.99.