Rebecca O'Brien on Producing Ken Loach

Ahead of her talk at Queen's Film Theatre, the producer talks about making movies that matter

‘What’s it like working for Ken Loach?’

‘Oh, it’s great. Brilliant.’

Says Emer, who is a very good sport about answering the phone and being abruptly questioned about her working conditions by some odd Northern Irish woman. In the business, we like to call that 'premature interrogation'.

Once that is all sorted out, however, the phone is handed over to Rebecca O’Brien, Ken Loach’s right hand woman and producer of some his most influential cinematic contributions.

‘Oh, I agree with Emer,’ she says cheerfully. ‘It’s brilliant working for Ken. He is my director of choice. I’ve been working with him and Paul [Laverty] so long, it’s hard to imagine working with anyone else.’

O’Brien has been the producer on some of Loach’s most significant and influential cinematic contributions, including Route Irish, Hidden Agenda and, of course, the feted The Wind That Shakes the Barley. She describes her contribution thus: 'Someone has to be the organized one, don’t they? I raise the money and I spend the money,’ she laughs.

Of the four films selected by the Queen’s Film Theatre to celebrate Loach’s 75th birthday, only one does not have O’Brien’s stamp on it. ‘I was too young to work on Kes,’ she admits. And yet, O’Brien’s involvement in making Loach one of Europe’s most prolific and well-respected film-makers is one frequently acknowledged.

O’Brien will be appearing at the QFT on September 13 to talk about her time working with the great director alongside Brendan J Byrne of Hotshot Films. ‘I’ve made so many films with Ken over the years,’ she says. ‘When I go to something like this, I like to wait and see what the audience want to know about.’

We can make some educated guesses, though. There are two topics that she will likely cover, the first of which is producing The Wind that Shakes the Barley, one of the jewels in Loach’s crown.

Prize-winning, praised and one of the most successful Irish independent films of all time, The Wind That Shakes the Barley scooped the 2006 Palme D'or at the Cannes Film Festival. It earned O’Brien a nomination for the British Producer of the Year from the London Critics Circle Film Awards.

O’Brien hesitates to ascribe the film’s success to any one thing. ‘It was a powerful story. It was about the genesis of the Troubles, and people are always interested in that. But…’ she hesitates for a moment. ‘I think it just struck a cord. It was the right story, at the right time. Film-makers are always waiting for that.’

The other topic likely to come up in discussion at QFT is Loach and O’Brien’s participation in the cultural boycott of Israel. Despite vociferous condemnation by some – calling the boycott antisemitic and ‘beyond the pale’, according to director Richard Moore – O’Brien states her continued support of the boycott firmly.

‘Palestine asked us to do it,’ she explains. ‘Although we don’t condone violence, any violence, Israel engages in disproportionate retaliation to Palestinian attacks. Our protest is peaceful. We don’t use guns, just cogent reason.’

Log on to the QFT website to book your tickets to Producing Ken Loach - A Conversation with Rebecca O'Brien at 12.15pm on Tuesday, September 13.

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