Carla's song is the latest film directed by Ken Loach. It is a rather unique collaboration with first-time scriptwriter Paul Laverty. Paul was in Nicaragua in the late eighties at the height of the war waged by the USA-backed Contras. His experiences there as a human rights lawyer prompted him to try and communicate some of what he had seen in a film script. With the naivete of the innocent he sent his script straight to Ken Loach and Carla's Song is the result.

“I was writing lots of articles for small human rights organisations”, recalls Laverty,(second left in the image) “and eventually, I decided ‘That’s it! I’ve really got to try and get a story out to a bigger audience!’ In my naivety, I decided I would try and write a film script. “Most people said ‘You must be daft! First of all, you haven’t written a script before. Secondly, you think you’re going to get a feature film made in Nicaragua. And thirdly, it’s going to have a political element: you must be stupid!’ But, in a way, I didn’t really care. I’m not trying to be brass-necked about it but, if you feel passionate about something, you’ve got to get it out.” The route Laverty chose to turn what he learned into a film led him, almost inevitably, to Ken Loach. “I wrote to Ken about six years ago out of the blue,” he recalled on the Glasgow set of the film, “and he said, ‘Let’s meet up and have a good chat’.”

The fim is set in Glasgow and Nicaragua. While political in the broad sense like most of Loach's films , it is essentially a story of the love of a Glasgow bus driver George (Robert Carlyle) for the eponymous Carla (Oyanka Cabezas)

Carla is a dancer who has fled Nicaragua after her group was ambushed by Contras. George chances upon her busking, while driving his bus along St Vincent Street; he duly abandons his bus to pursue her acquaintance.

“It’s important to me that I do this film very well,” adds Cabezas. “For some reason, I feel very, very close to Carla, even though I never had these kinds of experiences, I think it is because I, Oyanka, am representing my country.”

The two are soon canoodling at the back of what was then a Strathclyde Regional Transport bus. Local government reorganistaion has left me unsure what to call it now. While Carla is seen out of her depth in Glasgow's cold and rain, it is nothing to George's shock when he sees the Contras at first hand. Laverty is at pains to stress that there is nothing the Contras do in the film that he did not either witness or have documentary evidence to support.
A film could not be set in Nicaragua without some effort to address the global circumstances which caused this nation of two and a half million to be centre stage for most of the Reagan years. Such polemicism as there is, is delivered by Scott Glen who plays Bradley, a disillusioned CIA operative who has to take George through a crash course in the Langley, Virginia way of death.“He was immensely plucky,” says Loach of Glenn. “He went and learned Spanish, which was great, because the character would have been able to speak Spanish. And, in a short space of time, he became all the things that the character would have been.”
There is a certain irony in this film coming to light in 1997, for the Nicaraguan people appear, for the time being, to have severed electoral knot with Sandinistas who are the unseen heroes of the film, having revolutionised the country which was in the words of Oxfam "the threat of a good example"

Some quotes

Carla's Song was awarded a gold medal at the Italian Film Festival in Venice. The judges, led by Roman Polanski, gave the film the award for what they saw as the way "it best underlies civil progress and solidarity".

Accepting the award in Venice, Paul Laverty said: "In a truly civilised world the two ex-presidents of the United States, George Bush and Ronald Reagan, would be tried for their crimes against humanity in Central America ; there's a better chance Scotland might win the next World Cup. What comes to mind is an old peasant organiser I met in Central America. He worked in really dangerous areas, but despite the ever-present threat of violence he was full of optimism and conviction. As I left he shook my hand and said: `Join our grain of sand'. This solidarity medal from the Venice jury honours the memory of that old man and the thousands of others like him who continue to organise ... who continue to believe it's possible to put people and community before profit."

Ken Loach.."It's important to rescue the past and tell that story (Nicaragua in the eighties) It's important to share the trauma that the people of Nicaragua went through, and acknowledge it."

Scott Glenn. “It was the most exciting, vital way of working that I’ve ever run into. I told Ken at the end of the film that I’d been waiting 27 years to work with him.”

Carlyle on filming in Nicaragua ....

“It’s not something you can say you’ve enjoyed, but it was a tremendous experience. A lot of people say that it’s changed me. When you’ve worked like that for six weeks - just six weeks - and you see what people have had to put up with for 17 years, it just kind of calms you down.”

What the papers said

More about Nicaragua

Imgages from Susan Meiselas' Excellent 1981 book

Volcanoes of Nicaragua

Nicaragua online


More about Ken Loach

Songs about Nicaragua

"Nicaragua" by Bruce Cockburn

"Dust and Diesel" by Bruce Cockburn

Writings about Nicaragua

Paul Laverty's introduction to the published script

An excerpt from "Hatful of Tigers by Sergio Ram¡rez"

Carlos, Now the Dawn's No Found Illusion, by Tomas Borge

Some papers by Marco A. Navarro-G‚nie

Various books

Bruce Cockburn's Central American Diary

The next film by Ken Loach with script by Paul Laverty is called
"My name is Joe"
It has already been filmed, mostly in Glasgow in late 1997

Featuring Peter Mullan, Louise Goodall and Lorraine McIntosh

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