Following May's nationwide disruptions in France, which saw strikes paralyse everything from schools to trains to the postal service, the French protest bandwagon is rolling again this month with actors and technicians now at the forefront.
Industry workers are protesting a proposed cut in unemployment benefits that would see them move from working 507 hours over 12 months for eligibility to 507 hours in 10 and a half months of 'on-time.'
Following a protest Tuesday when 60 artists marched on the 31st International Film Festival of La Rochelle to invade screening rooms and force the cancellation of the day's program, a group of directors calling themselves "Angry Filmmakers" have pulled their films from Paris Cinema, an event showcasing film throughout the capital.
During a press conference in Paris, the co-ordinator of the so-called Angry Filmmakers, Jean-Pierre Thorn, announced that all directors of "films d'auteurs" had ceased their co-operation with Paris Cinema and the La Rochelle festival. "We are in the middle of demolishing a system without deigning to negotiate with those principal to the system," said Thorn.
The move against Paris Cinema is certainly the biggest blow so far of the strike given that this is the debut year for the event which has been backed by the city and Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe to the tune of Euros 1.2m.
On Wednesday, 50 union members stormed the headquarters of France's broadcast watchdog the CSA, while various festivals in Rennes and Bordeaux were cancelled due to the outcry.
Culture minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon has pledged government support to festivals which have fallen or may fall prey to the brouhaha, while at the same time being lambasted by workers. While the potential accord concerns mostly part-timers who are far away from the A- (or for that matter B-) list, some big names are beginning to come forward to show support.
Director Pascal Thomas, president of the Societe des Realisateurs de Films (SRF - the entity behind Directors' Fortnight), denounced the "blackguard agreement" which was signed on June 26 by the Midef, CFDT, CFTC and CGC unions. France's most powerful union, the CGT, has so far refused to sign and is thus causing most of the uproar.
Actor Fabrice Luchini has also pledged his support saying, "It's very easy for me to show solidarity since I can't work for the entire month of July.". Luchini is one of France's most prolific and beloved theatre and film actors.
However, this year's Cannes jury president and lauded film and theatre director Patrice Chereau has sided against the strikers calling the movement something "extremely counter-productive and suicidal." He told French daily Le Monde, "The world of spectacle is shooting itself in the foot. If we cancel the Avignon Festival we will have killed it and I don't see how that can make anything advance." He added, "I am absolutely not shocked by the agreement....I think the CGT has a tendency to make the worst kind of politics."
The last big industry strike in France came in the early 90s when actors who work as voice dubbers protested their inequality with regular on-screen actors. The strikers did indeed get a better deal following the complaints.