Friday, May 24, 2024

At Cannes Film Festival, drama unfolds even outside the cinemas


The unique aspect about the Cannes Film Festival is the presence of drama – not just inside the darkened auditoriums, on the giant screens, but also outside on the streets. For over the three decades that I have covered the 12-day event on the shores of the shimmering blue Mediterranean Sea, there has hardly been a year without some protest or the other. (Also read: Rasoulof banned from attending Cannes Film Festival 2024; here’s everything you need to know)

Festival General Delegate Thierry Fremaux holds a press conference to announce the official selection of the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)(AFP)

These are, of course, done in style and with artistic placards spelling out the grievances or demands or both. Strikes by railwaymen or baggage handlers at Nice Airport (Cannes is a 45-minute drive away, the road running along the picture postcard coast), for instance, have caused inconvenience to guests. Once, I had to drag my bag for a considerable distance, because those in charge of placing luggage on the the belt had struck work.

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Strike over new labour regulations

This time around, Festival workers have called for a strike over pay packets and new labour regulations. And French unions are a mighty lot.

On Tuesday, the Festival issued an official statement hoping that solutions would be found to stop workers from disrupting the cinematic event, often called the Queen of All. There are just a few days to go before the Festival begins to unroll on May 14.

A group describing itself as Sous les ecrans la deche (Broke Behind the Screens) – representing workers at the Festival as well as Critics’ Week, Directors’ Fortnight and other events – has called for a strike. It was unhappy with the precarious position Festival’s freelance employees were in.

These men and women are hired only for the period of the Festival, and they unlike temporary workers in France’s entertainment industry, do not enjoy unemployment benefits between assignments. What is more concerning, a new French labour law to come into force on July 1 will make it even harder for them to qualify for benefits.

Festival statement

A Festival statement said: “They are aware of the difficulties faced by some of their staff who, working on strings of contracts for film festivals, are affected by the reform of the French unemployment insurance scheme, and must grapple with a drop in their benefit”. The Festival was prepared for a dialogue and called on all the festivals concerned, the institutions and the unions to come together around the bargaining table to find a “collective” solution.

Another group, Collectif des précaires des festivals de cinéma (The Collective of Precarious Workers at Film Festivals), which includes nearly 200 Cannes Film Festival workers, from projectionists to press officers to administration staff, have said they will strike in Cannes next week. They want not just changes in the unemployment law but also higher overtime pay.

The Cannes Film Festival winds up on May 25.

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