Ken Loach at Cannes: 'don't know' if 'The Old Oak' will be last film

By Hanna Rantala

CANNES (Reuters) - Ken Loach said on Friday he does not know if "The Old Oak," the 86-year-old British director's attempt to win the Cannes Film Festival's top prize for a third time, would be his last.

"Oh, I don't know, I live day by day," said Loach, who turns 87 in June. "If you read the obituary columns and you're not in them, it's a good day. So we just keep going, really."

Loach told The Hollywood Reporter last month that "The Old Oak," which premiered on Friday, was likely his last feature.

Screenwriter Paul Laverty said it was not out of the question for Loach to do something other than film.

"He's far too modest to say it but film is just one of the things he does," he said. "So he'll be very busy and feel alive for a long time to come."

Two of Loach's previous films, "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" and "I, Daniel Blake," have previously received the Palme d'Or, making him one of only nine directors who have won more than once.

In the new film, the Old Oak pub is the only public place left for locals in a former British mining village to hang out, but when Syrian families fleeing war also begin showing up, on the invitation of bar owner TJ Ballantyne, not everyone is happy.

As in the past, Loach mostly avoids using professional actors, with TJ played by former firefighter Dave Turner. Ebla Mari, a Syrian actor, plays Yara, a refugee who befriends TJ.

Together they try to improve their community in northeastern England which, as in real life, is slowly crumbling as people leave for economic opportunities elsewhere.

"The villages where we filmed last year, there was no real need to design sets because the villages are like that, you know, all the shops are closed," Turner said. "There is no investment, there's no jobs. There's a lack of hope."

"Once you take hope away from people, then what's left?"

The treatment of refugees from Syria and elsewhere who resettled in these communities also remains an unresolved issue, said Mari. "They face a lot of discrimination now and a lot of racism until this day. So it's really relevant," she said.

"That's why we need to talk about it more and to make movies about it and to tell their story," added Mari.

(Reporting by Hanna Rantala and Miranda Murray in Cannes; Editing by Matthew Lewis)