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Actors have used the Venice film festival as a platform to attack streaming services as the annual jamboree proceeds without many of its biggest stars because of ongoing strikes in Hollywood.
The Venice festival, normally the venue for presenting films that go on to become Oscar favourites, was the first international event to be hard hit by the US film and television actors’ strike demanding that streaming sites and film studios improve their contracts.
Actors and filmmakers including Bradley Cooper, Wes Anderson, Emma Stone, Tilda Swinton and David Fincher cancelled their attendance at the event that began this week, although their new films are in the running for the prestigious Golden Lion, the Venice festival’s highest recognition.
Studio MGM pulled the much-anticipated movie Challengers, which had been set to open the Venice festival, as the terms of the strike by SAG-AFTRA — the union that represents more than 160,000 film and television actors in the US — bar actors from promotional activities for new releases.
Adam Driver was one of few Hollywood A-listers to attend the festival, as an exemption from the union for independent productions enabled him to present his film Ferrari.
He said: “Why is it that smaller distribution companies like Neon and STX International can meet the dream demands of what SAG is asking for . . . but big companies like Netflix and Amazon can’t?”
In July, Hollywood actors joined screenwriters in the first joint industry strike in 60 years. Discussions are ongoing over payments for series sold to streaming platforms such as Netflix, Apple and Amazon and rules around the use of artificial intelligence in movie and TV productions.
Oscar-winning UK actor Emma Thompson, in Venice for a separate awards ceremony rather than the film festival, said one sticking point was residuals — payments made to actors, screenwriters and directors for reruns, DVD releases, streaming or the use of scripts and actors’ images by artificial intelligence.
“The industry has changed so much. Subtle things have happened and you suddenly realise residuals don’t exist any more in the same way,” Thompson told the Financial Times.
“Residuals were the way actors used to sustain [themselves]. Getting a bit of the profits later is a hugely important thing,” she added.
“I hope the parties are sitting down as we speak and an equitable solution can be found.”
Actor George Clooney, who led a donation campaign for striking actors with colleague Meryl Streep, was in town but steered clear of the red carpet after calling the strike an “inflection point” for the industry.
Industry executives have criticised the timing of the strike action as the film industry had begun to recover from the effects of the pandemic, and called for a compromise on pay.
Nancy Pelosi, the former US House speaker who was also in Venice, said the battle was “much bigger than a wage dispute” as “respect for intellectual property” was enshrined in the US constitution. It cannot be “duplicated with AI and not rewarded”, she said.
However, Pelosi also added: “I know many industry leaders and I don’t have any impression from them that this will be over soon, though I hope to be wrong.”