Freelance film festival workers call for a strike at Cannes for first time in over 50 years

The 77th annual Cannes Film Festival is taking place from 14 to 25 May in the southern French city.
The 77th annual Cannes Film Festival is taking place from 14 to 25 May in the southern French city. Copyright Jonathan Short/AP Photo
Copyright Jonathan Short/AP Photo
By Anca Ulea
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A collective representing freelance film festival workers are calling for a strike during the Cannes Film Festival next week, to protest precarious working conditions.


A collective representing freelance film festival workers in France has called for a strike during the Cannes Film Festival, which begins next Monday (14 May).

The labour group, called Sous les écrans, la dèche (Broke behind the screens), said the strike wasn’t meant to shut down the festival, or damage any of the films that are premiering in Cannes, but rather to “disturb” proceedings.

A labour strike is an exceedingly rare occurrence for Cannes. The world’s largest film festival has only been affected by social action once in its 76 years of operation.

In 1968, the 21st edition of the festival was cut short due to an overflow of the May 68 protests, which took place across France, with famous protesters including Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Claude Lelouche.

This time, it’s workers behind the scenes that are leading the action. Up to 200 French film festival workers – who work at Cannes and other festivals across the country – are represented by Sous les écrans, la dèche which voted on Monday (6 May) to move forward with the strike.

‘Precarity’ not being addressed

The point of the industrial action is to raise awareness of the growing instability for workers in France’s film industry and to demand labour protections for freelancers in the industry, the group said in a statement on Monday (6 May).

Among their demands, they're asking for all film festival employers to adhere to a collective agreement that allows contractors to benefit from the special status for intermittent show business workers in France, or “intermittents du spectacle”.

France has a unique system which allows freelance workers in the entertainment industry to receive benefits during their unemployment periods, provided they’ve worked a certain number of hours in the year.

But those benefits have slowly been chipped away at by the French government, according to workers and film festival workers often don’t qualify due to the nature of the companies they work for.

The amount of indemnities paid to workers has already been cut in half by the government, according to the group, and a new decree on 1 July is expected to raise the number of hours intermittent workers will have to work to qualify for benefits.

“These reforms are throwing festival workers in such precariousness that the majority of us will have to give up our jobs, thus jeopardizing the events we take part in,” the workers said in a statement.

Cannes organisers respond

The collective says that negotiations with employers and cinema institutions in the country have hit a dead end, which has made a strike at one of cinema's biggest world stages the only way forward.

“Our warnings and demands have been met with polite consideration so far, but no concrete measure has been offered by the CNC (National Centre for Cinema) or the Culture Ministry,” the group’s statement read.

The collective includes workers in key posts including projectionists, programmers, PR representatives, ticketing and guest relations. Their strike could cause major disruptions during the festival.

On Tuesday (7 May), organisers of the film festival issued a joint statement encouraging all parties to “come together around the bargaining table” to find a solution and avoid a strike.

The statement, signed by the Cannes Film Festival, the Directors’ Fortnight, Critics’ Week and ACID, said organisers are “aware of the difficulties faced by some of their staff,” who are “affected by the reform of the French unemployment insurance scheme”.

They added that they “hope that solutions will be found, and are prepared to set up lasting dialogue conditions to support them.”

This year’s Cannes Film Festival, its 77th edition, will run from 14 May to 25 May with dozens of film screenings some of the top international names in cinema and thousands of spectators descending on the French coastal city.

Additional sources • Deadline, Le Monde

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