ONE of the many things that I admire about director Ken Loach is how he consistently utilises the platform afforded by the interest in his latest films to intervene in wider political debates. True to form, he has been utilising the focus on I, Daniel Blake, which picked up the Palme d’Or at Cannes in May and is on release in cinemas from tomorrow, to critique the BBC for its news coverage, and for the vision on offer in much of its recent television drama. For Loach, Downton Abbey presents a “rosy vision of the past”, which allows the audience to “wallow in fake nostalgia”.

He may well have been reflecting on how BBC drama has been transformed since the days when he first walked through the door as a young graduate in the early 1960s. Back then, he was one of a number of young writers, directors and producers who were able, indeed encouraged, to create hard-hitting, experimental, and often overtly political, drama.

British television in the 60s was a space which enabled the flourishing of a Brechtian-inspired modernist drama. Central here was the BBC’s Wednesday Play series which ran from 1964-1970. It was a period which represented the best, but, in some ways, the worst of the Beeb. If we examine two documentaries by Peter Watkins, we can see both processes at work. Culloden (1964), an experimental depiction of the Battle of Culloden, employed an on-screen anachronistic TV crew and was shot in a documentary style. That the BBC allowed such experimentation from Watkins, a 24-year-old first-time director, was testimony to its commitment to work in new and exciting ways.

The following year, Watkins directed The War Game, a dramatised account of the aftermath of a nuclear attack on Britain. A mark of the play’s success was that it received the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. But the BBC refused to screen it, arguing that is was too horrifying for TV, and Watkins never worked for it again. He moved to the continent where he directed a number of long, experimental dramas, perhaps most famously La Commune (Paris, 1871), released in 2000, a six-hour-long dramatisation of The Paris Commune, which utilises much of the elements on display in Culloden. The British Film Institute has featured it as one of the world’s best long films.

As part of Document Film Festival, which opens today, there is an extremely rare opportunity to catch La Commune (Paris, 1871) on the big screen. The screening also represents an opportunity to reflect on what television drama might be. Perhaps there should still be Downtown Abbey, but where’s the experimentation? There are no shortage of young filmmakers in Scotland producing quality short and feature-length films, often with limited budgets. But there are few to zero opportunities for them to produce their work at the BBC.

These and other issues will be raised in Glasgow Glam Rock Dialogues: 3 – Commune. A collaboration between myself and Carl Lavery, it is an attempt to “perform thinking” in front of a live audience. The show mixes live visuals by Kenneth Davidson, Brechtian theatre techniques, radical politics and a glam rock aesthetic, channelling the spirits of Marc Bolan and Suzi Quatro to approach pressing issues facing the world today. Our aim is not to teach but to provoke debate.

Both free, but ticketed events, are tomorrow. Visit www.document for more.

David Archibald is senior lecturer in film and television studies at Glasgow University.