By Michael Roddy
BERLIN (Reuters) - British film director Ken Loach, receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Berlin film festival on Friday, said the more ambitious his films were in trying to push a social or political agenda, the less successful they were in achieving that aim.
Loach, 77, who in his five-decade career has frequently crossed swords with the British establishment and is a fervent opponent of what he sees as "wars of intervention and imperialism" by the United States and Britain, told a festival news conference that one of his greatest successes came with "Cathy Come Home" in the mid-1960s.
The Oxford University graduate began his film career in what was known at the time as "kitchen-sink" realism and his films have often focused on outcasts, social problems and on occasion on the British role in Ireland.
"Cathy Comes Home", which was aired as a docudrama on the BBC and aroused a storm of phone calls to the state broadcaster, had the modest goal of shining a light on the plight of families split up in some circumstances due to welfare rules at the time, Loach said.
"It contributed to changing the law," he said, but added: "The grander the theme the less chance you have of an immediate response. It's more like contributing to a discussion and adding one small voice to the rest of the noise that is out there."
Asked about some of his more recent films, Loach said he had particularly enjoyed "Looking for Eric", his 2009 movie about a postman who idolizes Eric Cantona and receives "life coaching" from the French footballer known for his philosophizing.
He said that he and his screenwriter Paul Laverty had played tricks on Cantona, who plays himself in the movie, giving him phrases that are hard for non-native speakers.
"We were quite mischievous because he was asked to say things that people with French accents find very difficult," Loach said, giving as an example the phrase: "He who serves thistles shall reap prickles."
"Try saying that if you speak French as your native language," Loach said. "It was a cruel trick on the great man but he came up smiling."
Loach, whose retirement from making feature films was announced in the trade press last year while he was in Ireland filming "Jimmy's Hall", due for release this year, said film making "is not something you give up lightly" but noted it is hard work and he is now at "the wrong end of the 70s".
Loach is being honored with a special tribute by the film festival, its Honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement.
In addition to the Cantona film, Loach's other more recent works include "Land And Freedom" (1995), "My Name Is Joe" (1998), "Bread And Roses" (2000), "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" (2006) and "The Angel's Share" (2012).
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)