Labor Protests Threaten Cannes
Protesting French actors and technicians, who prompted the cancellation of most summer arts festivals last year and forced the resignation of the French culture minister this spring, are now threatening to disrupt the Cannes film festival next month. They want to pressure the government to bow to their demands on unemployment benefits.
On Monday the protesters muscled their way into a Paris theater where the annual Molière theater prizes were being awarded. Amid raucous scenes, that ceremony was held without lights or microphones. Across town they also forced “Il Trovatore” to be given in concert version at the Bastille Opera.
Even the announcement of the Cannes lineup on Wednesday was slightly delayed by protests in the morning. The festival’s board then issued a statement saying it hoped the dispute would be resolved before the event begins on May 12. If not, the board authorized the festival’s president, Gilles Jacob, and director general, Véronique Cayla, to find a way to let the protesters express their views peacefully. The protesters want to revoke an agreement, reached in June by three unions and the national employers’ association in France, that reduces unemployment benefits for about 100,000 self-employed artists and technicians. The employers said that an earlier agreement was being widely abused and cost them $1 billion a year. Two leftist unions, which refused to sign the deal, have been leading the protests. Before the June agreement, if employees worked 507 hours during a 12-month period they were guaranteed 12 months of unemployment benefits. Now they must work 507 hours in 11 months to earn 8 months of unemployment benefits.
In theory the unemployment fund for cultural workers is managed exclusively by employers and representatives of artists and technicians. But inevitably the government has been drawn into the fray, with the wrath of protesters frequently directed at Jean-Jacques Aillagon, who was the culture minister until March 31. His successor, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, is caught between the employers’ refusal to cede and the countdown to Cannes.
Marc Slyper, a spokesman for the artists’ union, said, “It is clear Donnedieu de Vabres was named to find a solution.” Mr. Slyper added that he was confident that a temporary settlement could be reached, but that it would also be necessary for Parliament to adopt a law defining cultural policy in France. Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres said on Tuesday that he had “identified the problems” and was working to resolve them.
The Cannes International Film Festival, which opens with Pedro Almodóvar’s new “Mala Educación” (“Bad Manners”), is offering 46 premieres among the 56 feature films in its Competition and Un Certain Regard sections, with prominent directors and actors rubbing shoulders with those making their festival debuts.
Movies in competition include Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11”; “The Ladykillers,” starring Tom Hanks, directed by Ethan and Joel Coen; and “Shrek 2,” directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon. Among movies to be shown out of competition are Wolfgang Petersen’s “Troy,” starring Brad Pitt; and “Kill Bill: Vol. 2,” directed by Quentin Tarantino, who is also president of the festival’s main jury this year. When short-movie and documentary programs are added to the films exhibited in the Cannes marketplace, the festival expects to present 3,562 films, a 42 percent increase from last year’s offerings. Thierry Frémaux, the festival’s artistic director, said efforts had been made to open the festival to every candidate.
With each year’s festival counting on stars to draw attention, security is always tight, personified by platoons of beefy bodyguards in tuxedos. But this year, along with a fear of terrorism, the festival is bracing itself for high-profile protests by artists and technicians.
The first art festival of the season, le Printemps de Bourges, a rock and pop event in central France, opened on Tuesday without incident, but only after organizers let protesters make their views known onstage. But the unions consider Cannes to be a far more inviting target because threats to disrupt it are more likely to embarrass the government into settling the conflict. Autor: Alan Riding