Ken Loach Refuses Turin Film Fest Honor Over Alleged Worker Abuses

11:28 AM PST 11/21/2012 by Eric J. Lyman

The 76-year-old auteur said Turin film museum wages were cut with some workers fired; the museum says Loach was "badly informed."

ROME – Ken Loach's decision to skip the upcoming edition of the Turin Film festival is in protest of a labor dispute at Turin’s National Film Museum, the festival’s parent organization, it was revealed Wednesday.

The 76-year-old Loach had been scheduled to receive one of the festival’s two Gran Premio Torino lifetime achievement honors. Italian auteur Ettore Scola, the other Gran Premio Torino honoree, will be on hand for the honor as planned, organizers said.

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Loach issued a statement Wednesday saying it was “with great regret that [he is] compelled to refuse the prize” which he said he decided to turn down after learning that cleaning and security services at the museum had been outsourced, resulting in cut wages, with several workers fired. The statement -- distributed in Italian -- came from BIM Distribuzione, the local distributor for Loach’s The Angels’ Share, which had been scheduled to screen in Turin.

“The lowest-paid workers, the most vulnerable, thus lost their jobs for their opposition to a pay cut,” Loach said. “In this situation, the organization that procures the services cannot close it eyes, but must assume responsibility for the people it employs, even if they are employed by an outside firm.”

Loach continued: “We made a film dedicated to this topic [the 2000 Cannes Palme d’Or nominated Bread and Roses]. How could I not respond to a request for solidarity from workers who were fired for fighting for their rights? Accepting the award and confining myself to a few critical comments would be weak and hypocritical.”

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After the release of Loach’s statement, the National Film Museum released a response: “It displeases us that a great film director, someone we have always admired, has been badly informed … [in a way] that does not reflect in any way the reality.”

The museum’s statement went onto explain that the outsourcing of cleaning and security services had been carried out as legally prescribed and after a competitive bidding process. “The museum cannot be held responsible for the actions of third parties, either directly or indirectly,” the museum’s statement said.

The director of the National Film Museum is Alberto Barbera, who, since December, has doubled as the artistic director at the venerable Venice Film Festival.

The issue of labor issues at the historic museum has appeared occasionally in the local media in recent weeks, but until now it had not been a high profile topic.

The festival itself announced that Loach would not be attending the event earlier in the day, but it did not say why. Organizers said the screening of The Angels’ Share, Loach’s critically acclaimed drama about a group of men's plan to steal whiskey from a distillery, would be cancelled. The film won the Jury Prize in Cannes earlier this year and most recently took home two Scottish BAFTA prizes.

An announcement about a replacement film would be made “soon,” organizers said, while those holding tickets for The Angels’ Share would be reimbursed for their purchase.

The 30th edition of the festival is set to get underway Friday with a screening of Quartet, Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut. It will also feature other high-profile out-of-competition screenings, including Joe Wright’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel Anna Karenina, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ romantic comedy Ruby Sparks, and The Sessions, a story about a man on an iron lung looking to lose his virginity, from Ben Lewin.

The event also features a 16-film in-competition lineup of first and second films.

The festival, the last under the artistic leadership of acclaimed Italian film director Gianni Amelio, concludes Dec. 1.

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