What does a film festival look like in the middle of a strike?

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In July, a Hollywood studio executive told Variety that some of the year’s biggest and most important film festivals in Venice, New York, Toronto and Telluride were “f—ed” if the long-running writers’ and actors’ strike did not end soon.

“You can’t premiere movies anywhere without your stars,” the executive said. “No stars, no movie.”

The strike has dragged on for months. What will this mean for the film festival circuit?Credit: Getty

With the Venice Film Festival set to kick off this week, the issue has become extremely pressing. Already, one of the biggest film premieres of the year has been pushed out, with Zendaya’s Challengers dropped from the Venice lineup due to the ongoing Hollywood strike.

The Writers Guild of America has been on strike for 119 days while members of the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, have been on the picket line for 46 days. As well as shutting down filming on new productions, the strikes prohibit stars from promoting any new films – the bread and butter of big festivals like Venice. Negotiations between the unions and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the body representing studios and streamers, are moving at a glacial pace, leading to fears that the festivals might be missing their key drawcard: Hollywood’s best and brightest.

The solution? The unions have agreed to grant several independent productions interim agreements which enables them to continue to be filmed, and promoted, without breaching strike terms. Luckily for festivals, which are often dominated by the year’s most promising independent movies, this loophole means their red carpets will see at least a spattering of stars.

Shaking off the strike

The Venice International Film Festival – which is the oldest of its kind and will celebrate its 80th edition this year – will continue largely unscathed (aside from the early loss of Challengers), with only one event cancelled: an Armani event featuring Cate Blanchett.

Stars such as Adam Driver, Jessica Chastain, and Mads Mikkelsen will attend the festival, which kicks off on August 30.

These celebrities will promote independent films granted interim agreements, including Michael Mann’s Ferrari, in which Driver depicts car racing legend Enzo Ferrari; Nikolaj Arcel’s The Promised Land, which will star Mikkelsen; and Michel Franco’s Memory, featuring Chastain in her first role since winning an Oscar for her performance in The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

The usual Q&As and post-screening conversations will likely be dominated by filmmakers rather than actors this time around. Directors have already struck an agreement with the AMPTP and aren’t on strike.

Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro.Credit: Jason McDonald/Netflix

Despite the loss of Challengers, a tennis-themed thriller, Venice’s official lineup is far from lacking, featuring hotly anticipated films like David Fincher’s The Killer, Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things, Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla and Wes Anderson’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.

The Toronto International Film Festival’s program is also strong, including films from Taika Waititi, Richard Linklater and Alexander Payne. Films from outside the US, and therefore not impacted by the strike, bolster its slate: Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron will open the festival and Indian director Karan Boolani will premiere his comedy Thank You For Coming.

Negotiations are at a standstill

Meanwhile, little progress has been made on resolving the strike, despite the AMPTP making its first counteroffer since the WGA went on strike in May. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the offer included gains in residuals and protections against artificial intelligence, but was quickly rejected by the union as insufficient.

The union said the studios’ proposal “failed to sufficiently protect writers” and that the AMPTP was seeking “not to bargain, but to jam us”.

Official negotiations have largely stalled since. Meanwhile, no official negotiation has taken place between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP.

Coming soon(ish) to a cinema near you

Since actors and writers are prohibited from participating in promotional campaigns while striking, marketing strategies for new films have crumbled. As a result, Dune: Part Two has been delayed for a second time – it was initially pushed from October to November this year, but is now scheduled for March 15, 2024.

The November release date for Dune: Part Two has been pushed twice because of the strike.Credit: Warner Bros

This change caused a cascade of shifts among Warner Bros productions, including Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, a sequel to Godzilla vs. Kong, which will now hit screens a month later on April 12, and Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim, now planned for December next year instead of April.

Sci-fi fantasy film Poor Things, starring Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo, was slated for September, but will now hit cinemas in January. However, it will still premiere at Venice later this year.

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