New technology, same old exploitation: questions to Ken Loach

Award-winning filmmaker Ken Loach talks about his newest film Sorry We Missed You – how he was inspired by a visit to a food bank, his take on how exploitation has shifted to the digital space, and his in-depth research to understand those who suffer from it the most.

Award-winning filmmaker and storyteller Ken Loach. Photo from FES Info-heft.

The new film Sorry we missed you by British director Ken Loach, based on a screenplay by Paul Laverty, is set in Newcastle (Great Britain). The social drama relates a universal story about the pressure to perform and exploitation, about the need for care and charity, about fighting spirit and cohesion - in short, all those issues that are currently preoccupying people - all over Europe. 


How did you get the idea for Sorry we missed you? 

I thought that I, Daniel Blake might have been my last film, but when we visited food banks to conduct our research, we realised how many of the people who were coming there actually have work. Part-time work, small jobs, temp work, self-employed, one-off casual jobs, often at one's own risk and so badly paid that it's not enough to live on. It's a new form of exploitation. The so-called gig economy with its fee-based remuneration, small jobs or jobs through agencies cropped up again and again and ever more frequently in Paul's and my everyday conversations. Bit by bit, this gave rise to the idea for another film collaboration, in which one can't help but noticing the affinity and allusions to I, Daniel Blake. 


Exploitation of labour at the expense of individuals and humanity is not a new problem. 

The only thing new about it is that it uses the latest in technology. Highly sophisticated technology and networking ensure that a delivery driver is sent along a predetermined route, while customers are informed in real time about the status of their delivery and the expected time of delivery at their doorstep. This information creates enormous pressure. The long and short of it all is that a delivery driver has to hustle his bustle to the point of sweating blood in order to fully realise the possibilities of technology, while at the same time he is just a slave to this technology and, what is more, poorly paid. The technology is new, but the exploitation is as old as mankind. 


How did you come up with this film and the specific occupation of self-employed delivery driver? 

Paul did most of the research, and then we met with the people who perform these jobs. But the delivery drivers were often anxious and reluctant to divulge too much because they were scared they would lose their jobs. Gaining access to delivery depots was also difficult; we were lucky to come across one helpful manager from a depot who gave us very precise information on workflows and how such depots are designed. The other drivers in the film are also delivery drivers themselves, or used to be. So they knew exactly what the depot scenes were all about. They were intimately acquainted with the time pressure, the tension and the hectic pace of parcel distribution at the depots.  


This interview was originally published in German in the FES Info-Heft: Wieder vereint? – Vol 1 2020. 

About the interviewee

The award-winning filmmaker Ken Loach is a whistle-blower, chronicling and indicting the causes and agents of social and political abuses  – and is at the same time a forceful and gripping storyteller. 

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