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Is the SAG-AFTRA strike impacting the Venice Film Festival?

by Oana-Maria Moldovan 

Some of you might be curious about why some celebrities are participating in the 2023 Venice Film Festival even though the SAG-AFTRA strike is still ongoing, especially since the actors are not allowed to promote their projects during this time.

SAG-AFTRA spokesperson, Jane Johnson, released a statement addressing the presence of certain celebrities at the 2023 Venice Film Festival amidst the ongoing strike. 

According to Johnson, the union understands the confusion and concerns surrounding this matter and aims to provide some clarity.

Johnson emphasised that attending the Venice Film Festival does not necessarily contradict the terms of the strike. SAG-AFTRA's main objective through this strike is to achieve fair and equitable compensation, safe working conditions, and improved protections for its members. 

While the strike prohibits actors from actively promoting their own work during this period, attending a film festival is not seen as self-promotion.

The Union recognizes that film festivals, such as the prestigious Venice Film Festival, serve as essential platforms for showcasing films and celebrating artistic endeavours. 

They provide crucial opportunities for filmmakers and actors to exhibit their work to wider audiences, industry professionals, and potential buyers.

Basically the Venice Film Festival is more about empowering and promoting the film industry than anything.

It's important to note that the union has encouraged its members to be mindful of their actions during the strike. While attending the festival can be acceptable, members are advised to refrain from participating in any promotional activities directly linked to their own projects. 

This includes interviews, press conferences, and any activities that may generate personal promotion during the festival.

SAG-AFTRA aims to find a balance between advocating for its members' rights and recognizing the importance of industry events like the Venice Film Festival. 

By attending, actors can show their support for the artistic community while adhering to the strike's guidelines on self-promotion.

The Union stated that “Some of our fellow members have been subject to negative comments for participating in projects with an Interim Agreement, particularly when it comes time for them to promote their work, including at festivals. 

Whether from within or without our organisation, not only are remarks of this nature unhelpful to performers, but by dividing us, they do the AMPTP’s work for them.”

 One of the big names that attended the Venice Film Festival this week and got criticised because of it is Adam Driver. 

However, the "Ferrari" star asked during a press conference that “Why is it that a smaller distribution company like Neon and STX International (distributors for “Ferrari”) can meet the dream demands of what SAG is asking for – this is pre-negotiations – the dream version of SAG’s wishlist, but a big company like Netflix and Amazon can’t”, managing to formulate the real question that more and more people have lately about the strike.

On the other hand, even though some other big names like Jessica Chastain to Sadie Sink and Kerry Washington have also attended the Festival, the question in the title still stands. 

Despite obtaining approval from the union, numerous leading celebrities have chosen to demonstrate their support for their striking colleagues and avoid the risk of unfavourable public perception. The unity of it was more important for some than being seen in the public eye.

Bradley Cooper, made an example out of himself and had not graced the Venice red carpet this year for the world premiere of his latest film, “Maestro”. 

Cooper could have attended the Festival as the film's director, but since he also portrays composer Leonard Bernstein in the historical drama, he chose to express his solidarity with the striking actors by remaining at home, since the movie is a Netflix production.

But when we leave the big names aside, a question still lingers. 

What's to do with the not so well known actors and directors? Should they also have attended the Festival for promoting their projects and themselves or just stay home for the sake of the strike? Surely, not all have the privilege Cooper has to stand on their own opinions.

For those “small actors” who chose to express solidarity with SAG-AFTRA and not go to the Venice Film Festival, the publicity can go only one way. Since some of them might be in their first role in a movie, people do not know them, so this Festival could have been a chance for them in the public eye.

SAG-AFTRA stands for promoting more independent production companies and more new comers, but people on the internet start to feel that some of the “restrictions” might impact the way newer actors are seen, or are to be seen.

The problem is complicated in itself, is more of an ethical problem than anything. We have to understand that every artist might have conflicted feelings right now. We should also understand the privilege A listers hold in the matter.

The SAG-AFTRA strike is indeed impacting both the Venice Film Festival and the way Hollywood will work from now one. The way this impact works is still to be seen, but one thing is certain in the minds of most actors and directors: ethical work is more important than the public eye.

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