THE BLOG
07/30/2015 03:32 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2016

"Jimmy's Hall": The Long Haul

"Jimmy's Hall" is the type of movie that your parents, church, government, bosses and landlords warned you about. The film, nominated for the Cannes Film Festival's highest honor, the Palme d'Or, shows how standing up to the powers that be may not always be rewarding. It also shows how excellent films that depict fighting said power structure receive little to no distribution!

Jimmy Gralton was a free thinker and a fighter. Born on a small, impoverished Irish farm in 1886, Gralton emigrated to the United States in 1909 to improve his life. He returned to fight in the Irish War of Independence barely ten years later.

As the leader and chief organizer of Leitrim's Revolutionary Workers Group, Gralton championed the cause of local workers, small and tenant farmers and unemployed youth. Gralton built a communal meeting hall which held classes in Marxist political education, Irish culture and dance. Dalton's gang taught young and old alike jazz, modern dance, traditional Irish step dance, Celtic language and a political framework for understanding the struggles of rich against poor. He had become enthralled with the music of rebellion from African Americans to Irish revolutionaries.

"Did you ever dance with a Black woman?" his wide-eyed pupils query. "The floor of the Savoy in New York," answers the class conscious Dalton, "is the only place where Black and White are on the same footing!" The local parish priest takes a less benign view of mixing races as he excoriates jazz as dark, anti-Christian music. The priest urges his flock to be true to Irish values.

But Dalton sees his actions as true to class and internationalist values, cutting from the oppressed African Americans to the oppressed in Ireland. In that vein, he names his meeting hall after the great Republican leader Patrick Pearse and the great Republican and Socialist leader James Connolly, both executed by British firing squads for their role in the 1916 Easter Rising which sought independence for Ireland. In defending the poor and evicted, Gralton and crew find themselves in further conflict with the Church which tends to side with the large landholders.

Pearse - Connolly Hall is a focal point for continuing the struggle for social change in Ireland. When Jimmy and his Communist stalwarts defend the poor, the Church fires back "in the spirit of God's love" trying to shame, undermine and cut them off. Finally, the Hall itself and its leader are attacked.

Barry Ward as Jimmy is good spirited and philosophical. "There is more hate in your heart than love," he tells the powerful parish priest. He tries to bolster his followers asking them "does all that longing make you depressed or fill your heart with hope?"

Filmmaker Ken Loach ("Hidden Agenda" and "The Wind that Shakes the Barley") almost always seems filled with hope. Outside of film as well as through it, Loach has pursued the better world of social realism that his characters have heroically struggled for. Although the sharp political and social criticism that characterizes his work has made distribution a problem, the quality of his work has certainly not suffered. Jimmy's Hall, like Ken Loach's other work, is well worth seeking out.