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Flash View, 5-17: Pulp Reality
We are all Intermittents

"I do not really understand the situation, it's not my preoccupation, I am not French, I am here to see the films."

-- Quentin Tarantino, president of the jury, Cannes,
commenting on the Intermittents du Spectacle on May 12, 2004
Quoted in Le Monde, May 14, 2004

By Quentin Tarantino,
as translated from the French
and imagined by Paul Ben-Itzak

CANNES, France -- Madames, Monsieures, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, I'm honored to be here tonight to open the 57th annual Cannes Film Festival. In fact, I almost didn't get here. Most of the national trains were on strike, and the bus line I needed to take to the train station in Paris was on strike. When I woke up this morning, there was no room service; the hotel workers are on strike. My latest film, "Kill Bill 2," almost didn't get here; the post office was on strike. As you may know, the festival itself was threatened with disruption by France's Intermittents du Spectacle, or freelance performing artists and technicians, until the Intermittents' leaders reached an agreement with festival directors. You may have seen 11 of them on the red carpet outside tonight's opening ceremonies, wearing letters on their backs that spelled out NEGOTIATION; the Intermittents are demanding the renegotiation of changes in their unemployment compensation which cut thousands of them out of the system, as well as ended maternity leave. It would be easy to dismiss the agitating Intermittents as just another bunch of strike-happy Frenchies, but this would be a mistake. I've been studying up on this a bit, and I would like to explain to you tonight why the Intermittents situation here in France has global implications.

"Intermittents" are not a uniquely French category. In my country, we'd call them freelancers. In the dance field, I believe they're sometimes known as 'pick-up dancers,' as they dance not just for one large company, but for various smaller troupes. In the United States, we do have unemployment insurance. If you're fired or laid off from your job, you can get unemployment compensation for a period of about six months. However, to qualify for this compensation, you have to have been actually employed on a regular basis by one company. Freelancers, or contract workers, are not eligible. So, a dancer who worked for several companies, paid on a per-show basis, would not get unemployment when he or she was between gigs. Here in France, it's a bit different.

Until this past January, freelance performing artists and technicians who worked 507 hours over a 12-month period were eligible for a year of unemployment compensation. And here's the best part: They didn't have to log all the hours with one company as a permanent employee, but could qualify for hours with various companies. But last June and again in November, the employers' syndicate and several of the smaller unions signed, and the government approved, a new Intermittents regime which would slash benefits to eight months, and give the artists just 10-and-a-half months instead of 12 (technicians would have 10 months) to log the necessary 507 hours. The Intermittents and their main union, the CGT were left with no choice but to take their cause public, and to get the attention of a media which had largely ignored their plight, they took the drastic measure of striking or threatening to strike France's major festivals last summer. For the most part, the festival directors sympathized with the Intermittents' cause; they realize that as enterprises which benefit from being able to hire artists (or technicians) on a contract basis, they benefit from the Intermittents system. They also realize that by supporting artists and technicians, the Intermittents' regime in fact supports the creation of new work, and therefore without it, this work and the culture itself would be imperiled.

It's the same thing in the States; in making my films, I too have benefited from the contributions of actors and technicians who, if they aren't now, started out as freelancers. I question whether actors, technicians, dancers and other artists should have to choose precarity when they decide to dedicate themselves to their craft. But in effect, unless they're lucky enough to work for one major company or one major show, this is in fact the life artists in the US face.

I hear talk that despite the accord reached with festival directors here, the Intermittents may still try to block certain film screenings.* While it may perturb me to not be able to see these films, I think it's far more important that, at a time when the eyes of the world are focused on Cannes, the Intermittents cause be held up as a shining light to all freelance artists and technicians around the world; just as they feed the artistic industries, they deserve to be taken care of as well. It's not a question of treating them differently; just giving them the same benefits as everyone else, and not depriving them of these just because, by the nature of their metier, they happen to work for many companies instead of one.

*Editor's Note: On Saturday, according to the Paris daily Liberation, several Intermittents attempted to disrupt a screening at the Star cinema in Cannes. Despite indicating that they were willing to exit voluntarily, at least one Intermittent was treated roughly by police breaking up the action. Later, during a protest demanding the release of Intermittents arrested during the first action, police physically accosted two journalists, Liberation and others reported.


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