Ken Loach's Turin Fest Snub Inspires New Documentary

Scandal and Controversy at Italian Film Festivals
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

When auteur filmmaker Ken Loach in November pulled out of the Turin Film festival in protest of a labor dispute at Turin’s National Film Museum, the festival’s parent organization, the affair made headlines. After all, he was supposed to receive one of lifetime achievement honors. The drama came after Italian media charged the Rome Film Festival with unfairly favoring films made with local support. Five of its awards this year went to Italian movies produced with support from the regional entity that supported artistic director Marco Mueller. His first year in charge also drew media criticism for dates that were pushed back to November, the festival's ticket price plan, the quality of films and the relative lack of big-name stars.

"Dear Mr. Ken Loach" will tell the story of the British auter's decision not to accept the festival's lifetime achievement prize in protest of worker conditions.

ROME -- British auteur Ken Loach earned headlines across Italy and beyond last year when he turned down the Turin Film Festival’s lifetime achievement award in solidarity with workers at Turin’s National Film Museum, the festival’s parent organization. A new documentary will tell all about it.

Dear Mr. Ken Loach, directed by Rossella Lamina and Nicola Di Lecce, will recount how the filmmaker found out about the plight of the workers and the fallout from his controversial decision not to attend the festival. The film's title comes from the start of the letter from fired museum worker Federico Altieri, who wrote Loach to alert him to the alleged problems.

Loach’s last-minute withdrawal, which also included pulling a scheduled screening of his comedy The Angels’ Share, which would have been the film's Italian premiere, sparked criticism from the festival, the city government and fellow Turin career award honoree Ettore Scola and resulted in a threatened lawsuit from festival backers.

Altieri and other workers alleged they had been downsized or had their pay slashed after the museum outsourced their security and maintenance jobs to an employment agency. For its part, the festival and museum management said the allegations were overblown and that Loach had been misinformed.

The controversy did not seem to have a negative impact on the Turin Film Festival, which turned out to be the only one among Italy’s largest fests to see ticket sales rise in 2012 despite the country’s moribund economic growth.

The 2013 edition of the festival, its 31st, is set for Nov. 22-30. It will be the first edition under the artistic direction of Italian comedy director Paolo Virzi, who replaced Gianni Amelio, whose mandate expired.