Interview with Screenwriter Paul Laverty

Paul Laverty isn’t your conventional screenwriter. With a degree in philosophy from the Gregorian University in Rome and a career which began in human rights law, his transition to film is one that began after he witnessed countless atrocities whilst working in Nicaragua during the civil war. As he recalls, “I got sick and tired of writing human rights reports, talking to delegations, and in my innocence, I thought perhaps I’d like to try and right a fictional story informed by what I had seen.” The following result was Carla’s Song which marked the beginning of his long-term friendship with director Ken Loach.

Looking through Laverty’s filmography, much of what he has written illuminates various social and political issues by exploring real life incidents from a fictional point of view. Yet despite the powerful backdrop at which he sets many of his films, he is keen to mention, “Good issues don’t necessarily make for good films, but good stories do…You could have the most interesting landscape in the world and make a boring story out of it, and then other people can make shopping interesting if they’re skilful enough. It really depends on the skill of the story teller, but great issues in themselves don’t make for great stories. You have to find great stories.” Although he does mention, “if drama is well done, it has a great capacity to illuminate, raise questions, and to look at contradictions.”

A patron of the Take One Action Film Festival, which saw the UK première of his latest film Even the Rain last week, it is clear that Laverty recognises the importance of giving films that don’t necessarily appeal to the commercial market a voice. As he notes,“unfortunately the distribution of film is generally a capitalist endeavour where they want to make lots of money. Many of the films being shown at this festival would never get a screening in public if it wasn’t for organisations like this. People get a chance to see complex, difficult, and more controversial films that will not be shown on the commercial circuit and which are not just about special effects or sentimental love stories.”

"Drama has a great capacity to illuminate"

With their ninth feature film The Angel’s Share currently in the editing process and a number of award winning films under their belts, it is clear that Laverty and Loach have a unique bond which is rarely seen within the film industry. “We are very close friends,” says Laverty. “We share some sort of similar sensibility and also have very different skills. I write, Ken directs, and hopefully we meet in the middle as film-makers. It’s marvellous fun working with Ken, he’s a very demanding partner but also a very generous one .”

Laverty’s latest film, which sees him working with his wife, esteemed Spanish director Íciar Bollaín for the first time, has proven to be a particularly hard project to bring to life. “This has been a 10 year obsession,” says Laverty. “It’s been a very very difficult film to make and it’s a miracle how it actually ever got made because it is not commercial in any general sense and doesn’t fall into any particular genre.”

Following an idealistic director (Gael García Bernal) who is in Bolivia trying to make a film exposing Christopher Columbus as an imperialist who exploited and destroyed the indigenous population of South America, Even the Rain originally had a very different intention. Initially it was a historical drama that focused purely on the Columbus story but this concept never took off and so Laverty needed to change his idea considerably if the project was to succeed. “Many years later I decided to re-conceptualise it, and see if I could mix it with something much more modern and combine two time periods, modern and historical.”

He became fascinated by the Bolivian water wars in the year 2000 and so used the contemporary crisis as a backdrop to capture a parallel that can be seen between Columbus and the Cochabamban authorities. “You see the same indigenous communities with their own indigenous languages. It’s sticks and stones up against a modern army. 500 years ago they are fighting about gold and 500 years later they are having water being taken from them.”

A writer who seems drawn to the way humans interact and treat each other, often with no regard for the negative consequences that can follow, Laverty is not one to cite particular influences that have affected the way he creates a script as a whole. Yet he closes with a sentiment which is applicable to anyone regardless of their profession. “We are obviously creatures. We are like magpies I think, stealing and robbing from whatever source: from what we see, from what we imagine, and even subconsciously I think.”

Taken from The Student, published Tue Sep 27th 2011.

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