Cannes Film Festival Faces Potential Labor Strike and #MeToo Revelations

By J. Sperling Reich | May 13, 2024 2:02 pm PDT
Thierry Fre?maux and Iris Knobloch - Cannes Film Festival 2024

The Cannes Film Festival which officially kicks off 14 May 2024 is facing both the possibility of a strike by hundreds of the event’s freelance workers during its 77th edition, as well as the release of a report accusing high profile members of the country’s film industry of sexual misconduct.

The labor collective known as Collectif Des Précaires des Festivals de Cinéma (Collective of Precarious Workers at Film Festivals), is made up of projectionists, drivers, caterers, and other festival staff. In a campaign they’ve named Sous Les Écrans la Dèche (roughly translated to Broke Behind the Screens), the group has threatened to walk out in protest against labor reforms proposed by the French government that would significantly reduce their unemployment benefits.

Specifically the group is arguing against changes to the French unemployment insurance system, set to take effect on 1 July 2024. The new decree is expected to increase the number of hours freelance workers must accumulate to qualify for unemployment benefits, which could ultimately cut their benefits in half. Most of the festival’s workers are freelancers who rely on short-term stints of employment during events held in Cannes and elsewhere in France.

Negotiations and Dialogue

Festival organizers, including the Festival de Cannes (Cannes Film Festival), Quinzaine des Cinéastes (Directors’ Fortnight), La Semaine de la Critique (Critics’ Week), and ACID, have acknowledged the challenges faced by their staff and expressed hope that solutions will be found through dialogue. In a joint statement, they urged all parties, including festivals, institutions, and unions, to convene at the negotiating table to address the demands and reform the status of these workers.

During a press conference on Monday 13 May, Thierry Frémaux, General Delegate of the Cannes Film Festival, stated that he would prefer to “have a festival free of polemics.”

Frémaux expressed optimism that a settlement will be sometime in June. “Everyone wants to avoid a strike,” he said. “We don’t want a strike, and they don’t want a strike. We are talking with them and working with them and hope that the negotiations will be successful.”

The collective is demanding a meeting with key Cannes staff and economy ministry representatives during the festival’s first week to seek a government commitment to develop concrete plans for safeguarding festival workers. Frémaux did not elaborate on contingency plans if a strike were to occur during the festival. Such a strike could greatly impact the festival, including screenings, logistics, and administrative tasks, since the collective represents a diverse range of workers essential to the event’s smooth operation.

Looming #MeToo Report

As if labor disputes weren’t enough to give Cannes organizers a headache, the festival is bracing for the publication of what has been billed as a “bombshell” exposé naming ten prominent French actors, directors, and producers facing accusations of sexual misconduct. The investigative news outlet Mediapart is rumored to be releasing the during the festival.

The speculation surrounding the report has already dismayed some of the top talent and filmmakers with selections at this year’s festival, as they fear their films could be overshadowed by the allegations. French media outlets have reported that festival president Iris Knobloch has acknowledged the gravity of the situation, stating that she and her team are maintaining “reinforced vigilance” and have supposedly enlisted the services of an external crisis management agency.

Though that may be a bit of media hyperbole, the festival has been considering various measures to address potential accusations of those scheduled to participate in the event, including disqualifying films from the competition or barring accused individuals from attending red carpet premieres. Knobloch has stated that decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis after consulting with Frémaux and the board of directors.

The anticipated Mediapart report arrives during a resurgence of the #MeToo movement in France, brought about by actress and filmmaker Judith Godrèche’s decision to speak out about alleged sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of director Benoît Jacquot. The festival has programmed Godrèche’s short film “Moi Aussi” (“Me Too”), which focuses on the #MeToo movement and sexual violence, as the opening selection of the Un Certain Regard section.

J. Sperling Reich