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DOMINIC SAVAGE - Romance and racism in Love + Hate

“I think a lot of racism is not a deeply held belief. If there’s a lot of other people who feel that way, it’s easy to feel that way too. So the Adam character in the film, in a way his racism is not deep-seated, because he wouldn’t be able to change so readily or quickly; it’s because of all the people around him and it’s because of those communities. Everyone falls in because it’s all part of the gang. I wanted to show that that change was possible. That maybe a lot of people really deeply, deeply feel that, and all it needs is for some emotion to take them over for that change to occur.”

What did you discover about racism and mixed relationships making Love + Hate?

“Well, I remember talking to this one guy and he was wrapped up with this Asian girl that he loved and it wasn’t anything to do with like her difference or anything, he just loved her as a person. Racism is a weird thing, isn’t it? I suppose it’s in all of us to a certain extent. There’s some condition in us that makes us want to identify with a certain group and to revile other groups. It’s a very strange, basic, human thing. I mean there’s always going to be these camps of people. ”What one wants is a tolerant society that actually respects those differences and the trouble is there’s not enough of that. It’s like there is this kind of order where people want to be better than other people. It’s human nature, isn’t it?”

We’re a competitive species.

“Exactly. But I think the worst aspect is when that competitiveness becomes extreme because that’s when everything goes really wrong. So this was a kind of attempt to just show in detail the lives of four young people and to try and explore as many different things that happen. It’s not the whole story, these are slices of life.”

What part did September 11 play in your decision to tackle this issue now?

“It didn’t, I don’t think. The idea for this film came very much when I was doing ‘When I was 12’, in Burnley, a film I made ages ago. You know, just being in that town I was aware of those divisions and I was really interested by that. I suppose I do love films like West Side Story and I do think they’re classic dilemmas. I knew I wanted to make that film. I knew I wanted to make it for ages. I think a lot of things you do are ideas and passions that you’ve had for years, really. It’s always the right time to make them, you know?”

How welcoming were the Asian community? Were they open to discussing these issues?

”Well there’s many people that don’t want to expose them. The Muslim community has a very particular attitude to their girls. There’s the arranged marriage thing. It’s very dishonourable if they go out with anyone they don’t approve of, and all that stuff. But it happens, that’s the truth. It happens all the time. So there’s a new generation of people in the Asian community who are positive for change and positive for integration, and there are people that actually don’t want it at all, they want that separation. So, you know, I think there will be Asian people that watch it and enjoy the fact it’s playing with these ideas, and people that wouldn’t even come and see it because they find it offensive, a young girl even talking to a white boy.”

Was it difficult, though, finding people in the Asian community who would talk to you?

“It was really quite difficult. They didn’t mind talking about it. They didn’t want to be seen talking about it. Because, again, there’s so much pressure within those communities to not misbehave or not be different or not stand out. If you want to then you have to leave the community.”

Have you experienced something similar in a social grouping?

“Well, if I just think about my own teenage years, like going out with a girl, there’s always a problem with parents. The girl I went out with, I remember at the time, there was no problem of race or religion or anything of that kind, she was the same background as me, but there was still disapproving of it. So, in a way, I think that’s a problem for everyone, isn’t it? [Laughs] To please our parents with who we go out with is impossible, really.”

I’ve got a daughter and I’m going to make it as hard as I can for her.

“[Laughs] No-one’s going to be good enough are they? That’s the truth. So it’s a problem that faces a lot of young people. It’s a difficult problem to get right. So that’s where it started for me, from my personal experience. But, for a drama, you want to up the stakes, up all the kind of conditions of it. Actually that’s what the film does: it shows those similar kinds of difficulties but on a more dramatic, more conflicting stage.”

You’re a social realist like Ken Loach. Has he been an influence on you?

”Er, I really like his stuff. I think his films have lots of heart and integrity, and he does tackle social issue, doesn’t he? But I find, stylistically, he doesn’t change, he’s got his way of doing it and it stays the same each time. If you like it you like it and it’s satisfying. As a filmmaker I certainly want to keep changing what I do and try to do new things and different things, and be more ambitious sometimes.
”I think trying to draw bigger audiences to films about social issues is the aim. People don’t necessarily want to be challenged when they go to the cinema. They kind of want to have a good time and maybe to be moved and to laugh. So I think it is a difficulty and there are certain people who will always go and see a Ken Loach film and people who will never go and see it. So I’d like to make films that appeal to a broader audience.”

Do you regard yourself as a political filmmaker?

“I don’t. I’m just into human social issues. I think the politics is there but it comes through by dint of that you’re doing something that is political, ultimately. You could argue that every film is political, but I suppose these are because they’re dealing with big human issues. But Ken is. He’s very much got a political agenda. That’s what I find a bit, you know, preachy. I feel that he’s trying to convert his audience a little bit.”

Do you think movies can change the kinds of cultural problems outlined in the film?

“I think it has the power to open the discussion, doesn’t it? But I think some people are living in a bubble really, and they don’t necessarily want to open themselves up. I genuinely think that people who have an issue with seeing a Muslim girl with a white boy just wouldn’t go and see the film. They wouldn’t even give it the chance. “There was an example in Birmingham of a play [Behzti] that challenged the sort of Sikh community. None of them had seen it but the word spread that this was defamatory to the Sikh religion, because it was all set in a Sikh temple, and of course the truth of it was it was a challenging play, yes, but what they’d assumed was it was just an insult, and it wasn’t. But they kind of completely made sure the play didn’t take place. They rioted outside the theatre. It’s not like they went to see it first, they just objected. So those kinds of people will not watch this.”

Your films are all set in a working class milieu. Is that where you feel the most interesting stories take place?

“I think so, yeah. I think that’s where the more struggles are and where there’s struggle there’s interest, isn’t there? You know, when I see films about wealthy people there’s something about that that distances me, and I’m not even that curious, particularly, because there’s always the argument, ‘Well, you should know better if you’ve got money.’ You know what I mean? [Laughs] Not that I have a problem with wealthy people or anything. I just don’t like all these costume things, costume dramas; I’m not interested in the lifestyles of the rich and whatever.”

The compassion in your works is admirable. What in your background do you think helped you most in terms of relating to the people you make films about?

“I don’t know, really. I suppose it’s probably because I’ve always felt slightly outside the system in many ways. I always felt like an outsider. I’ve never felt comfortable being a part of anything. So maybe I feel like the underdog. That’s got to be what it is. I suppose my upbringing, in a way I’ve always felt a bit classless. My father was a musician-entertainer. We grew up in Margate, it was very ordinary, but I always felt slightly excluded from things. I don’t know why. So I think it’s that compassion. I’ve never really analysed it too much because once you start doing that . . . I’ve never had a scheme [laughs]. I am what I am and I just do what I do.”

And you do it very well.

“Thank you. I’m very pleased you like it because I’m about to make a new film and it’s at that stage where you start questioning everything you do or the way you’re going to approach it and you get nervous. Nervousness is good as well when you make films.”

Is this the film to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Cathy Come Home?

“Indeed it is. That’s how it started. It started as a film about homelessness today, on the 40th anniversary of Cathy Come Home, but it’s changed into more of a film about social inequality and more the fact that there are incredibly wealthy people living side-by-side with incredibly poor people, and of course it then also reflects the state of homelessness today in terms of the fact that a lot of people are living in temporary accommodation for two, three, four, five years without a proper home. It’s all set in London and it’s all about the kind of huge, huge gap between the rich and the poor, and those different lifestyles that clash.”

Would you say that’s the biggest difference since Loach made his film, the inequality?

“Well, I think the system is trying to help people much more. That was shocking, I suppose, because it was about how the system failed them and how they slipped between all kinds of nets. That still exists but I think there’s more care in place. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that there isn’t enough places to house people. There’s not enough homes for people. And it isn’t right that people should be on waiting lists for years and years, and people aren’t effectively housed. Living in hostels and stuff is not home. So that’s the difference, I think. But also social inequality has never been as extreme as it is at the moment; the huge wealth of some people, and the fact that there are still people living in poverty.”

Colin Firth and Ann-Marie Duff are in it, I believe.

“Yes, it’s a move on for me in many ways in that I’m not so much working with first timers. It’s much more experienced actors now. There will be some discoveries, but mostly established actors. So it’s exciting. And they’ve bought up for the process that I make films with. The whole improvised approach, they’re really interested in that. So it’s going to be made in the same way, but they’re going to have un-learn all their acting.”

Yes, you told me last year that your next big challenge was to make a film with established actors and bring them into your way of working. Is that going to be difficult for someone who is as well known as, say, Colin Firth?

“Definitely. It’s going to be harder in many ways but we’re going to work on the premise that they’re going to work on their personal experiences and life experience - and they’ll have to, because it’s improvised. That’s the difference, I think. The people I’ve cast, it’s not just because they’re those names. It’s also because they’re prepared to do that. Many stars aren’t, I don’t think, but many of them have again got a connection with the role they’re playing – an emotional and experience connection – so that’s really interesting again. Hopefully we’ll be able to draw on those life experiences.”

Does the new film have a title?

”The working title is London - it’s all set in London – but we’ll probably change it.”

Do you think a film now could have the same impact as Cathy Come Home?

“I don’t. It won’t have it in the same way. I think what I’m looking for is an impact that just engages people in issues of society. Hopefully I’m going to try and make a film that talks about what society is today, and all the kind of dilemmas that society’s facing, and try and encapsulate that in a film. So I’m hoping to be ambitious. But it is about difference and how we’re all same, really. In the film all these different kinds of levels of people collide, and it’s about what happens when they do. So hopefully it will be a provocative film, but I can’t say it will provoke the set up of a new charity [laughs] or anything like that. I can’t promise that but there’s hope. There’s hope [laughs].”

You appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon as a child actor. How has that experience influenced the way you work with young, non-professionals in your films?

”First I have to say that what I find really weird is that my whole career started with Stanley Kubrick and, of course, it’s not ending with it. He was my idol, and I knew him, which was fantastic. But it’s great to aspire to that level of creative freedom and that level of originality. It’s very difficult to be that original now, in a way, but he was an innovator. I think acting, having a camera point on you, it’s good to have gone through that, and to understand what directors did to bring the best out of you, and what they did to bring the worst out of you. So I think that’s absolutely key that you do that. Some directors are really good at not doing that, do you know what I mean?”

Woody Allen says very little to his actors and I’ve read that you talk to yours a lot.

“Yeah, it becomes a big relationship thing, really. We become very close during that period and afterwards. We’re still in touch. I think you stay with people like that for many years.”

And most of the dialogue’s improvised, isn’t it?

”Yeah, that’s right. It’s made up very much on the day. That’s another thing, Stanley was very tight with what he did, it was all very organised. But actually a lot of his scenes he would break up and improvise as well, but he would just do it differently because he would then write that improv down.”

Would you direct any of the unmade Kubrick projects that are lying around?

“No, I wouldn’t. I really wouldn’t. I would feel like it’s stepping into his shoes. I wouldn’t presume, ever. I think in a way I want to carry-on on the path I’m on, to make films in this style. I hope this film, if nothing else, gives me the power to carry on making films in this style and developing them and being more ambitious with them.”