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Unions on Strike at Venice: What the Strike Means for Promotion and Premieres

SAG-AFTRA on strike during Venice Film Festival

The Take

  • The Venice Film Festival kicks off the fall festival circuit—and awards season—this weekend, but many writers and actors will not be present for premieres due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.
  • Some independent films have received publicity waivers from SAG-AFTRA, allowing their cast to promote them.
  • Major studios that have not offered a fair deal to striking writers and actors distribute many other films at the festival.
  • Meanwhile, festival jury members wore shirts and pins to support the unions.

The Venice Film Festival comes during the first joint writers and actors strike since 1960 and kicks off the fall film festival season that leads directly into awards season. Many of the films at this year’s festival include striking writers and actors who will not be in Venice for the premieres.

As Venice Film Festival jury president Damien Chazelle said, “A lot of people who otherwise would have loved to be here during this festival are not able to be here. It’s a difficult time, obviously, in Hollywood, especially for working writers, actors, but also crew. Everyone is affected by the state of the world right now.”

At the opening press conference for the festival, Chazelle and fellow jury members Laura Poitras and Martin McDonagh wore “Writers Guild on Strike” shirts to show their support for the unions.

At the press conference, Chazelle noted, “Today is the 121st day that the writers in Hollywood have been on strike; the 48th day that the actors have been on strike.”

“I think there’s a basic idea that each work of art has value onto itself, that it’s not just a piece of content—to use Hollywood’s favorite word right now—to be put into a pipeline,” Chazelle said. He added that while many issues are on the table with the strikes, the core issue can be boiled down to the value of “people being remunerated for each piece of art that is made, and can we find a way to maintain and get back that idea—art over content.”

What will premiere at Venice with promotion?

Big premieres from studios and indie producers will debut in Venice. The list includes Ferrari, Priscilla, Memory, and Dogman. All four of those films have received waivers and interim agreements from SAG-AFTRA, allowing them to premiere with promotion.

On the other hand, films from indie distributors that are part of major studios (like Searchlight, which is part of Disney) are not eligible for waivers. So, while Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things will still debut in Venice, it will be without its stars—including Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, and Mark Ruffalo.

Other independent films at the festival that could premiere with the cast on hand include:

  • Ava DuVernay’s Origin is based on the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson and stars Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Nick Offerman, and Audra McDonald.
  • The action-comedy Hit Man from director Richard Linklater is based on a Texas Monthly magazine article and stars Glen Powell and Adria Arjona.
  • Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi returns after winning the 2021 Best International Feature Oscar with Evil Does Not Exist.

We have yet to determine the status of waivers for many of the independent films slated to premiere in Venice.

Studio films premiering at Venice

The strike also means that the five films from Netflix will be debuting without their cast in attendance. That list includes Michael Fassbender in David Fincher’s The Killer and writer-director-producer-star Bradley Cooper in Maestro. While Cooper could’ve attended the festival as a producer or director, he has decided not to.

Other films at the festival include:

  • Wes Anderson’s Netflix film The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.
  • William Friedkin’s final film: The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.
  • The Palace from director Roman Polanski.
  • Woody Allen’s 50th film: Coup de Chance.

Will any actors or writers be in Venice for the premieres?

Yes! In fact, Adam Driver will be there for the big Venice premiere: Michael Mann’s Ferrari, in which Driver stars as Enzo Ferrari. The film received an interim promotional waiver, meaning Driver will be in Venice for the premiere of the film. Ferrari comes from indie production company and distributor Neon (Parasite, Triangle of Sadness, and I, Tonya), so the film was eligible for a SAG-AFTRA waiver for publicity.

Just last week, Sofia Coppola’s film Priscilla, which will also premiere in Venice, received a SAG-AFTRA Interim Agreement. The agreement allows Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny, who star as Elvis and Priscilla Presley, respectively, to attend Venice for press and the premiere. Coppola will be in attendance as the director.

Lucy Besson’s DogMan was also granted a waiver, so star Caleb Landry Jones can appear in Venice and help promote the film. Jessica Chastain will be in Venice for director Michel Franco’s new movie Memory, which also stars Peter Sarsgaard. And Danish actor Mads Mikkelson confirmed he will be in Venice for Nikolaj Arcel’s The Promised Land.

Challengers, the new film from Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) and starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, and Mike Faist, was pushed to next year because of the strike, and Amazon Studios also delayed the film’s release date by a year.

Why won’t actors or writers appear at the Venice Film Festival?

The U.S. writer and screen actors unions (WGA and SAG-AFTRA) are on strike, which means that any promotion or publicity work for projects created under the previous contracts with the major studios is prohibited and must be withheld by all striking members. That includes interviews, personal appearances, film festivals, and premieres—like in Venice.

SAG-AFTRA has been granting waivers for independent productions, as we saw above with Ferrari and Priscilla. However, actors can refrain from attending those events even if the union has granted a waiver.

On the other hand, the WGA is not granting waivers and has an agreement with SAG-AFTRA that waivers cannot be applied to any productions filmed in the U.S. with the WGA.

A lack of publicity has hurt the studios’ bottom lines during the strike and has even caused them to delay fall film premieres like Dune: Part Two. The sooner the studios return to the negotiating table with the writers and actors and offer a fair deal with the work, the sooner the strike will end, and we will have a strong film and TV pipeline.

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