Ken Loach's Route Irish is a hard-hitting look at the privatisation of war in Iraq, as seen through the eyes of the subcontractors fighting it. The director talks about why he wanted to tackle the issue, what needs to be done to make companies more accountable for their actions, and why one of his actors ended up being water-boarded for real.
Route Irish is a film about consequences on a personal and political level, so what appealed to you about tackling the wider issue of Iraq?
Ken Loach: Yes, it's a film about consequences, absolutely. So what drew me into it... because the Iraq war is a huge subject and there have been many films about it - but it was when the private contractors started taking over and taking responsibilities from the regular army, which hides the war.You have these private armies of mercenaries acting with immunity for their actions, the worst of which was the Blackwater case where they killed 17 Iraqi civilians and the guys who did it just went home. [Screenwriter Paul Laverty and I] felt this deserved a story.
How much research did you do on the issue? I gather you and Paul spoke to ex-contractors and soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ken Loach: Yes, Paul spoke to a lot more in order to write the script and we had people around us who had been there [in Iraq] who were advising us, just chatting to us when we were making it, so you're always in touch with the reality of it.The contractors range a lot, as you can see in the film with the character of Frankie. He was a good professional soldier, he wasn't trigger-happy, he objected to the careless use or over-zealous use of guns and shooting and paid the price for it to people who were trigger-happy, and people who did suffer from post-traumatic stress.I hope that it comes out in the film that they're not all desperately about to commit murder - some will... some are, like Fergus, in a really bad state in their heads, and some are very honourable, decent guys just trying to do their job properly.
There are some very hard-hitting scenes in the film, none more so than the water-boarding scene between Mark Womack and Trevor Williams. How was that to direct? I gather Trevor did it for real...
Ken Loach: You just rely on the actors at that point. It's all been set up and they both know what they have to say. We'd worked it out technically, or at least we tried to. Initially, we tried doing it with a mask with a tube for Trevor to breathe through but it just didn't work because it interrupted the flow of the scene. So, in the end he said he'd just do it, and did.It was a tough scene. By that stage of the film there's a kind of forward momentum with the actors and the story and with the drive to tell it. So, that carries you through. But Mark and Trevor did an amazing job and it took four or five hours to shoot. It's an extraordinary scene to see.
There's a feeling throughout the film that there's a lack of accountability for these private contractor companies. What, in your opinion, needs to be done to address this issue?
Ken Loach: Well, there are those who say they need to be regulated, which they do. But in the end the privatisation of war is not acceptable. We shouldn't be issuing these subcontracts to these contracting companies because the people who run them are making millions.There should be no relationship between ex-politicians and them, like John Reid and Malcolm Rifkind, who are now associated with contracting companies having been ministers of defence. That's unacceptable.So, regulation, no politicians on the board and stop subcontracting anyway, which means getting out of Iraq. If anything needs to be policed, it needs to be done through a proper international body... not through us subcontracting teams of mercenaries.
Have you screened the film to anyone who advised you? What's been their reaction so far?
Ken Loach: Well, it's hardly been seen yet but certainly some of the people we spoke to who have been in the military think it's OK.
Interview: Rob Carnevale
Photos: PA/Artificial Eye