One of my photos

Its a free world

November 28th, 2007 · Posted by Skuds in Life/Politics · 2 Comments · Life, Politics

Tonight I went across to Tilgate to see the film It’s A Free World, which was being shown free at the community centre with the director, Ken Loach, there to discuss it afterwards.

I was a little worried as I was running late and thought I might not be able to get into the car park or the community centre itself. Its not a large car park and there is never any space to park on the roads around there. I figured that having one of Britain’s top directors in town, responsible for the original Cathy Come Home and Up The Junction, Kes, and many later films which have picked up awards from the Cannes film festival would have been a bit of a draw. Especially for free. But apparently not: we must be so awash with internationally-renowned artists around here.

In fact I was worried that I had got the wrong place or wrong day. There were only a couple of cars outside and no signs of life at all. Inside it was little better, with about 30 people there.

There was a bit of an introduction from a young chap from the No Borders campaign, followed by a few words from an ex-inmate of Tinsley House, and then a short preamble to the film by Ken Loach. Ken had intended to leave early but decided to stay so he could answer questions about the film afterwards.

I’m sounding a bit negative, but thats not how I feel. There may have been only about 30 people there, but the majority were youngsters. Those of us involved in ‘normal’ politics don’t get to mix with youngsters very often. They are not joining the political parties or unions in large numbers and its tempting to think that is because they are apathetic, but this evening showed that they are instead choosing to get involved in lots of single-issue causes instead, and they are very well-informed on the causes they get involved in.

Not only that, but the gender split was 50-50. A real difference from the male domination of most other political events.

The film itself was interesting. Not an all-time great maybe, but still thought-provoking in the sense that it does not lay out any conclusions for you. Its tempting for a director to just use a film to present their own point of view about what a problem is and what its solution should be but this one, despite Loach’s very strong views on the subject, seemed more ambiguous.

For the most part the performances were good, from a cast with very little previous acting experience. Most of the dialogue had an improvised feel to it and the result was a sense of realism to most scenes.

The lead character, Angie, started as a sympathetic character, losing a job after causing a bit of a scene at an after-work drinking session because she objected to being groped, and then deciding to strike out on her own. As she started up her company, she was turning a bit of a blind eye to some of the rules but she still had the audience’s sympathies.

Little by little she turned into a monster. At first it was her partner who looked to be the baddie – coming up with the scheme of housing immigrant workers four to a room, sharing beds on a shift basis, and making a huge profit from the rents, while Angie was busy inviting an illegal Iranian family home and helping them find a place to live, but before long you realised that she had become the sort of gangmaster we all read about in the news.

The pivotal point for me was when her dad and her son turned up one morning to see her dishing out jobs for the day like in the old dockyards and she was visibly ashamed that they had witnessed it. Her dad’s reaction was one of disgust and when she avoided answering the question about whether she paid minimum wage it was all downhill for her then.

I also liked the way that at the climax of the film, Angie was watching Dog Soldiers on TV. I don’t know what the intended significance was, but as it is basically a variation on the zombie siege scenario with a small group of heroes being swamped by ‘aliens’ I think I can guess.

After the film we were treated to a few stories about what the writer and director had found while doing research for it, a few opinions on why the situation is as it is, and a few suggestions – join in with single-issue campaigns, join your union, join a political group, etc.

It could have been a much more interesting discussion if there were a few more there, and a greater variety of opinion. There were four of us from the Labour party, but the rest appeared to be non-aligned or Respect types. No Tories at all.

It would be wrong to criticise them too much, when 99% of the Labour party didn’t bother going either, but I will say that if I was the cabinet member responsible for culture and I knew there was a world-class film director visiting town I would make every effort to get along there, even if I knew I would disagree with his politics. I’m not sure who exactly is in charge of culture these days, but I’m surprised they didn’t turn up.

Another absentee, although far less prominent than the portfolio holder for culture, is our Broadfield councillor, Adam Brown. (He may be less prominent but at least I know his name, despite his almost total invisibility in Broadfield this year) I’m not singling him out, its just that he lists films as one of his hobbies/passions and is also an independent visitor at Tinsley House so he ought to have had a huge motivation to go.

I would like to have heard his opinion on the comments made about Tinsley House actually. The chap from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who spoke said he had spent a total of 27 months in detention, spread across 11 detention centres and that he found Tinsley House to be the worst. Now I have been into Tinsley House and spoken to some detainees there and staff. I’m not saying I want to live there, but it didn’t seem that bad to me, but I can’t deny that someone who has spent weeks or months in a variety of detention centres is going to be a lot better placed than me to say what its like.

We are all sitting here convinced that Tinsley House is the best of the detention centres and that everything there is fine, or at least as good as it could be. Have we got it all wrong? A couple of years ago we had someone from the Gatwick Detainees Welfare group come along to talk to the Broadfield Labour meeting, and one of them is going to talk to the constituency this month. None of them has voiced serious concerns – but then they don’t necessarily know what the other places are like.

The staff at Tinsley House are obviously gonig to say its OK and also an ex-detainee obviously has a personal interest too, but only against the system as a whole, not one specific centre, so who is right?

So… lots of questions and lots to think about. Many thanks to Ken Loach for taking the time to come along to Crawley, and I hope he felt welcomed by the few who were there. I doubt I will agree 100% with his stance on everything, but its great to see someone in his position actually staying involved at such a grass roots level.

My biggest regret about the evening was not taking a cushion. It was a 90-minute film but community centres only have 30-minute chairs.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Adam Brown

    I am glad you missed me. 🙂

    unfortunatley I was unable to attend on Tuesday due to some personal issues I will not bore you with, although I have to admit to not being a fan of Loach since seeing Kes as a young boy (The end still depresses me now.)

    I am surprised to hear that the former resident of Tinsley House considered it the worse detention centre, as a “Former” member of the IMB I have been to several removal centres and although I would never say that the centre at Tinsley House was the best (I found them mostly to be on a par) they have always had staff that where very eager to take on board issues and work with the IMB and inmates groups to try and make things better. There is a long way to go, and it is unlikely that anyone will ever “like” being there however it would have been interesting if someone from the centre had been given the chance to give their view, perhaps the chairman of the IMB who would always welcome comments on imporvements.



  • Skuds

    I’ll confess to not remembering the detail of Kes from 30+ years ago, but I remember liking it.

    My impression of Tinsley House is similar to yours, which is why I was a bit surprised by the comments. Talking to the management there you get the impression its a 5-star hotel, but even after applying a reality filter to their opinions I didn’t get the feeling it was the worst.

    Unfortunately, the inmates I talked to there didn’t speak English so the conversation stayed at O Level French standard. And of course many of them only spend a night or two there – spending many months would give you a different perspective entirely.

    Didn’t know you had given up the visiting lark though – I really am getting out of the loop.