Cannes Film Festival strikes deal with workers

French protesters won't hinder event

May 12, 2004|By Claire Rosemberg | Claire Rosemberg,AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CANNES, France - Cannes Film Festival organizers yesterday struck an 11th-hour deal with angry French entertainment workers to stop them from wrecking the 12-day event, the world's premier film showcase.

On the eve of the glitzy launch of the annual movie bonanza, which runs through May 23, Cannes announced it had agreed after hours of talks to let the workers make several public speeches in exchange for peace on the streets.

Festival organizers and the city had feared that scenes of chaos and protest would jeopardize both the future of the event and the economy of Cannes.

Breaking with tradition, the protesters will join the film stars and celebrities in dinner suits and designer gear who will walk up the red carpet for the opening ceremony tonight - and air their grievances before the world's cameras.

As the second biggest international media event after the Olympics, with 4,000 media present, the festival is an ideal platform to reach the world.

The opening is to be attended by A-list celebrities, including this year's festival judge Quentin Tarantino and Spanish director Pedro Almodovar.

Other celebrities expected to put in appearances over the festival include Charlize Theron, Maggie Cheung, Cameron Diaz, Gong Li, Penelope Cruz, Uma Thurman, Tom Hanks, Sharon Stone and Sean Penn.

The workers are protesting a government reform of unemployment benefits for part-timers.

"The representative of the entertainment workers expressed their willingness to respect the mission of the festival, which is to welcome artists from across the world and to help films," Cannes organizers said in a statement.

As festival officials negotiated through the morning and afternoon with the protesters, who were busing in supporters from across France, city residents took to the streets to head off the protests.

Waving banners saying "Vive le Travail," "Vive Cannes," "Vive le festival" (or "Long Live Work, Cannes and the Festival"), some 1,000 shopkeepers, restaurateurs and hoteliers, headed by town hall officials wearing the French colors, marched through the narrow, cobblestone streets to call for peace.

"Cannes decided to make its voice heard, for while the festival may well be a national cultural asset, it's also an economic reality and a social necessity," said David Lisnard, the town councilor in charge of economic development.

The population of 70,000 swells to 210,000 during the film festival, which is said to account for 12,000 jobs and brings in nearly $155 million in revenue.

Festival organizers had feared protesters might overwhelm the 1,000 police deployed to ensure security in the French Riviera resort and disrupt red-carpet events such as the nightly film screenings that attract some of the world's celebrities.

The country's 100,000 part-time entertainment industry workers - including performing artists, technicians and administrative staff - last year forced the cancellation of most of France's summer arts festival season.

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