Roman Polanski Signs French Petition in Support of Subtitlers (Exclusive)

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The auteur joins a host of French filmmakers who are backing the subtitling industry in the face of declining fees.

Oscar-winning filmmakers Roman Polanski, Jean-Claude Carriere and Jean-Xavier de Lestrade are among nearly 200 names added to a petition protesting a cash squeeze on English-language subtitlers in France.

The petition has been drawn up by a group of working subtitlers, many of whom work on films destined for the upcoming Festival de Cannes.

Laurent Cantet, Dany Boon, Dominik Moll and Patrice Leconte also have signed up to support the protest against falling fees being offered by film laboratories for subtitling work.

Subtitlers in France are poised to refuse work at the low rates increasingly being offered by film laboratories, which are quoting producers a flat fee for a subtitle package before farming out the translation part of the work at cut-rate to obtain a margin.

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Leading subtitlers based in and around the French capital have closed ranks in protest to form an association called Anglo Subtitlers in France (ASIF).

Along with the petition, ASIF is due to send out an open letter Tuesday to the Festival de Cannes organizers, the French state film body CNC, France's government-backed export body Unifrance and all major French producers' collectives.

The letter defends the subtitling profession in the face of a resurgence of "low cost" practices, "mainly instigated by certain subtitling laboratories, and applied to the subtitling of French-language films."

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The letter notes: "Good subtitles directly help a film to generate profit. The current union rate of $5.60 (€4.10) per subtitle -- although rarely insisted upon by English-language translators -- underlines the importance that good subtitles have for a film's career. After spending hundreds of thousands, or even millions of euros to produce a film, it seems counterproductive to try and make minor savings on the subtitling, at the risk of undermining the film’s chances of success on the international marketplace."

As the global film industry prepares for the upcoming Festival de Cannes and potential Palme d'Or winners with English translations, the subtitlers are hoping to make the industry sit up and take note.

"Subtitles can make or break a film, so the French industry needs to be aware that our profession is being squeezed beyond breaking point by current pricing practices. Producers need to reject inclusive deals offered by labs and make sure that translators are paid a fair rate," said Sionann O’Neill, who has provided English subtitles for movies by Francois Ozon and Agnes Varda.

"A good film poorly translated becomes a mediocre film," added director Leconte. "Don’t allow our films to be translated on the cheap." 

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Oscar-winner Claude Lelouch's latest film, Salaud, On t’aime (Bastard, We Love You) starring Johnny Hallyday and Sandrine Bonnaire, is an example of the cost-cutting currently causing the brouhaha.

The film was offered through a lab at 95 cents a subtitle in a marketplace where a $1.15 per subtitle is usually considered rock bottom for low-budget documentaries.

"The subtitling community in France is fed up with the labs cutting into our fees. Given that the CNC provides a 50 percent subsidy for subtitling, there’s plenty of cash sloshing around -- it’s just ending up in the wrong pockets," offered one subtitler who wished to remain anonymous.