Cannes: Labor Strikes Prompt Festival Delays and Drama

12:42 PM PST 05/15/2014 by Rhonda Richford, Scott Roxborough
Arthur Mola/Invision/AP

"This year it’s really extreme," says a Cannes regular, as demonstrations, delayed flights and anti-Uber protests lead to canceled meetings and missed screenings.

In baseball, it’s three strikes and you’re out, but in France, three strikes is just another day in the country that has perfected the protest.

Seven unions called for nationwide strikes May 15, and executives still making their way to Cannes found that flights were delayed or canceled across France. Skeleton crews were manning the towers at airports from Paris to Nice, and European air control warned of “extensive delays” across the country, leaving late travelers who had planned to arrive on the second day of the festival stranded.

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Philip Moross, CEO of music-rights management firm Cutting Edge Group, was due to fly out of Gatwick in London with his team but instead found himself taking a 14-hour road trip through the Chunnel and across France after airline officials couldn’t guarantee a morning flight.

“We’re supposed to be in a meeting with CAA right now,” Moross tells THR. “But we’re tying up a deal with eOne in the morning so we’re getting there by hook or by crook.”

The team of programmers from the BFI London Film Festival were stranded when their flight into Cannes was canceled, forcing them to rebook on the Eurostar train. “We got some of the last train tickets. It was packed,” says Claire Stewart, director of the London fest. “They’ll get in late Friday.… There’s always something, some protest or strike during Cannes, but this year it’s really extreme. It’s affecting everyone.”

“One of the other reasons I come to Cannes is to see all my friends from L.A. so I don’t have to make a trip there in June. It’s takes 10 hours to get to L.A. and not 14. I should have just gone there!” Moross added.

In one of many similar travel-delay tales from this year’s festival, a large contingent of Chinese execs missed the May 14 gala premiere for Grace of Monaco because of the French labor action.

Some of the lucky few who actually made it to the Nice airport also found themselves stranded, as the local taxi union blockaded the airport for the second day in a row. They are protesting the local arrival of ride-sharing service Uber, which made its debut during last year’s Cannes Film Festival and has now set up permanently on the Cote d’Azur.

One determined producer tells THR he convinced a cab driver to play scab and drive him into Cannes, but the driver agreed to do so only on the condition that he lie down on the backseat so other striking drivers couldn’t see him.

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But things could have been a lot worse. On May 15, taxi drivers in nearby Nice had planned to come en masse to Cannes and shut down the city but were stopped by state police.

In yet another French labor dispute hitting Cannes, a protester May 14 burst onto the stage of Le Grand Journal, disrupting CanalPlus’ talk show that broadcasts live from the Croisette during Cannes. (The same show was disrupted during last year’s festival by a man brandishing a fake grenade and pistol.) The protester was objecting to proposed changes in unemployment laws that would force actors, screenwriters and other film-industry workers to work more hours and have a longer waiting period before receiving benefits. The changes are seen as a threat to the sort of independent auteur films that Cannes adores.

“Indie productions will die if [the government] goes in this direction,” says Sarah Gurevick, co-founder of the Maison des Scenaristes, which supports independent screenwriters.

Whatever Hollywood and Cannes industry attendees might think of France’s striking culture, more often than not the demonstrations have their desired effect. In the lead-up to Cannes, the newly formed association of Anglo-Subtitlers in France boycotted Andre Techine’s out-of-competition film In the Name of My Daughter because the French production company handling the film offered to pay just $1.50 a subtitle for the English translation, which is barely a quarter the French union rate. The protest worked. The company renegotiated the subtitling with two members of Anglo-Subtitlers in France at satisfactory rates.

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