Followed by Q&A with Producer Rebecca O’Brien. Bread and Roses is a story about the most marginalised of LA communities daring to take on their corporate bosses against all odds.
Fiery Mexican sisters Maya and Rosa work as cleaners in a down town office block in Los Angeles. Pay is low and bullying is common place. A fated meeting with Sam, a passionate American union organiser, leads to an unorthodox and imaginative campaign against their employer. The fight threatens their livelihood, family and risks their expulsion from the country.
Here I am in the United States, ten years have gone by since
I crossed as a wetback, with no identity papers I’m still illegal.
I’ve got my wife and my kids – who came so young they don’t remember
My beloved Mexico which I’ll never forget and where I can never return…
Los Tigres del Norte
Screening 4pm Wednesday May 2nd. Click here to book FREE tickets.
“Bread And Roses started at a bus stop. It was about 2.30 in the morning. Suddenly I was surrounded by animated accents from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Mostly women. We got chatting. They worked as cleaners for bankers, insurance companies, lawyers and Hollywood agents in some of the most prestigious offices in Los Angeles. They made a strong impression in their uniforms as if descending like some army in the night,” recalls scriptwriter Paul Laverty. Laverty was in Los Angeles, according to Ken Loach, “supposedly going to university but clearly doing something else, spending his time with troublemakers.”
Towards the end of 1994 Loach was editing Land And Freedom. Laverty kept in touch and in one of his letters he mentioned the Justice for Janitors campaign. “Several things struck me about them,” Laverty remembers. “They were irreverent and had lots of energy. They also made me laugh with their stories but there was a real sense of direction about their efforts. Creative alliances were being formed with grass-root organizations, students and churches coming together with the cleaners. There was a sense of an entire community challenging corporate power. No Justice No Peace was central to their organising drive.”
Loach was at once as enthusiastic as Laverty about the subject. First of all this was because the story took place in the United States, where he hadn’t worked before, “and I thought I should have a go before hanging up the viewfinder. It was also in the city which is the home of pictures and yet it was about a kind of parallel world, a complete other world that existed side by side with the movie world. It was about organising immigrant workers, Spanish speakers, very vulnerable, easily exploited and yet they managed to get over it. And having worked on the film in Nicaragua this seemed another element in the same wider story, the relationship between the US and countries that are essentially its colonies, not formally colonies but in practice they are colonies economically and culturally.”
The opening sequences of the film show Maya crossing the frontier with other Mexicans, with two coyotes as guides – essential links in the lucrative human traffic across Mexico’s frontier with the USA. Maya, and with her the audience, gradually discover the other Los Angeles, this immense “invisible” mainly Latin immigrant community. These are people who travel by bus in LA, who stand on street corners like the day labourers to get work – the people who do the worst jobs and get the worst wages.
“Spending time with organisers I soon realised they faced an enormous task,” says Laverty. “Many workers didn’t speak English and arrived there illegally. Cleaning companies threatened them not only with dismissal but deportation from the US. On top of that many workers had two jobs, sometimes three if you include the weekend. They were exhausted. That plus family commitments made organising incredibly difficult. For good objective reasons many workers were too scared to get involved. For very good reasons too many workers were desperate to change terrible working conditions. It’s a dramatic choice.”
Maya is rebellious, a troublemaker who, as her sister Rosa reproaches her, is incapable of keeping her mouth shut. Her arrival threatens to upset the precarious equilibrium of Rosa and her family. To make matters worse, the appearance of Sam urging them to take part in the campaign pushes the sisters to the two extremes of the alternative mentioned by Laverty.
But Maya’s journey is not only a journey into the family’s past, into Rosa’s past, about which she knows nothing. Thus through the two sisters the film explores the complex world of family relationships.
“The world siblings share is often riddled with a complexity which is hard to fathom. Secrets can fester. Loyalty and deep-seated jealousy can often sit side by side. Maya and Rosa, given their respective histories and personalities, make for a powerful cocktail where tempers must, at some point, boil over. But,” Laverty insists, “I like them both!”
Screening 4pm Wednesday May 2nd
Producer: Rebecca O’Brien
Screenplay by: Paul Laverty
Music by: George Fenton
Cinematography by: Barry Ackroyd
Editor: Jonathan Morris
Production Design: Martin Johnson
Maya: Pilar Padilla
Sam: Adrien Brody
Rosa: Elpidia Carrillo
Bert: Jack McGee
Text and images courtesy of Sixteen Films