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As Italy's Turin Fest Opens, Criticisms of Absent Honoree Ken Loach Roll In

Jury Prize
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Loach announced he would refuse the festival's lifetime achievement award in order to support local workers he said were mistreated.

ROME – Criticisms from Turin against English director Ken Loach, who on Wednesday said he would not accept the Turin Film Festival’s lifetime achievement prize, continued to pile up Friday after the city’s mayor said Loach failed to take into account his damage to the festival and the artistic director calling him a “megalomaniac.”

Loach announced Wednesday he would not attend the 30th edition of the Turin Festival “in solidarity” with a group of workers from Turin’s National Film Museum (the festival’s parent organization) who said their jobs had been outsourced, with wages cut and some workers fired. He pointed out that his 2000 Cannes Palme d'Or-nominated drama Bread and Roses addressed labor issues, and that his attending the festival in that context would be disingenuous.

“How could I not respond to a request for solidarity from workers who were fired for fighting for their rights?” Loach asked in a statement. “Accepting the award and confining myself to a few critical comments would be weak and hypocritical.”

One thing Loach may not have taken into account is the firestorm of attention his decision would spark. The Italian media came down on both sides of the issue, with some supporting the 76-year-old director’s decision and others criticizing him for it. But in Turin, the criticisms were ubiquitous.

Alberto Barbera, the Venice Film Festival’s artistic director who doubles as the National Film Museum director, said Loach, who he considers a friend, was weighing in on issues he did not fully understand. The museum itself issued a statement saying that Loach was “badly informed,” any denying any rules were broken or that any workers were fired.

Meanwhile, Piero Fassino, Turin’s mayor, said Loach’s decision did little but cause harm to the festival, and artistic director Gianni Amelio -- like Loach, an acclaimed film director -- blasted Loach as “selfish” and the “definition of a megalomaniac.”

With the issue still in the headlines, it threatened to overshadow the launch of the festival, set to open Friday night with a posh ceremony and the Italian premier of Quartet, the directorial debut from actor Dustin Hoffman.

Italian maestro Ettore Scola, who, like Loach, had been selected to receive the festival’s Gran Premio Torino lifetime achievement honor, reaffirmed Friday that he intended to collect his prize. A day earlier, he explained it was not because of a lack of empathy for the workers involved.

“A group of workers wrote me to ask me to support their protest by refusing to accept the award,” Scola said. "I replied that while I understand their struggle I did not think it appropriate to refuse the honor, as it would have been an unfair gesture for the festival, for Gianni Amelio, and of little use to their cause."

The festival concludes Dec. 1.