As we wrap up another successful edition of our fall film event GEMS, we’re excited to introduce yet another incredible film into our Audience Award canon: I, Daniel Blake.
Directed by the great British director Ken Loach and winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, I, Daniel Blake is an in-depth examination into the UK’s broken welfare system. The film follows Daniel Blake, a 59-year-old widower who is instructed by his doctor not to return to his carpentry job after he suffers a near-fatal cardiac arrest. But when the Department for Work and Pensions for sickness benefits denies his request, he’s given no choice but to jump through various systematic hoops, some baffling, some humiliating, as he struggles against endless red tape and a soulless bureaucracy.
In perhaps one of the most memorable moments of this year’s GEMS Film Festival, the Consul General of Great Britain in Miami David Prodger gave some opening remarks, focusing on the power of cinema to incite change, and the UK film industries’ openness to turning the lens onto their own shortcomings as a society.
“UK film has never shied away from the hard questions that only film can explore – about social inclusion, multiculturalism and the nature of our own societies,” said Prodger.
“So while my role as a Consul General is to champion the best of the UK, that also means being honest about who we are, and that is a society that may not be perfect, but it’s also one which is not afraid to be self-critical, to question and educate.”
And that is exactly where I, Daniel Blake excels. It’s a heartbreaking, real, and sometimes scathing look at the way an imperfect system can fail the very people it’s meant to protect. It sidesteps the opportunity to turn to easy solutions or a sugarcoated ending in the name of painting a realistic portrait of how the world really is – and what can be done to make it better.
Interestingly, the runner up for this year’s Audience Award was yet another UK production: Our Opening Night film The Rolling Stones Ole Ole Ole: A Trip Across Latin America. While I, Daniel Blake is a bleak picture that can be very difficult to watch, Ole Ole Ole is its exact opposite. Instead, Paul Dugdale’s documentary is an hour and 45 minutes of pure, unadulterated joy. The film follows the legendary rock band The Rolling Stones on their Latin American tour, culminating with their historic concert in Havana, Cuba – an event that marked the changing tides in Cuba, and a sense of rousing newfound liberation for the Cuban people.
While both films are in many ways as different as can be, one thing is for certain: UK cinema is not just present in the United States, but thriving. We look forward to seeing what else the UK has to offer in many Festivals to come.