Toronto festival faces union protests

Shift to digital raises job loss threat.

by Jennie Kermode

The head quarters of the Toronto International Film Festival have been subject to a picket this week over a decision to outsource film preparation jobs. Seven workers represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) say their jobs are under threat as much of their work has been outsourced to the California-based Deluxe Entertainment Services Group. The dispute could be the tip of the iceberg for an industry struggling to navigate the transition to digital.

Each time a film is prepared for fresh exhibition, it has to be checked, cleaned, repaired, and spliced together with accompanying material such as adverts or trailers - a process known as film revising. It is particularly important that this is done well at festivals, as they are sometimes working with the only existing copies of small independent films, so a mistake could have devastating consequences. The Toronto festival has a reputation for excellence in this area. But Toronto, like most such events, is now taking on more and more films in digital formats. These still need to be revised but the skill set required to do the job is very different. The union argues that this means the festival should arrange training for its existing revisors rather than outsourcing the work.

Although both sides in the dispute hope to reach a settlement, it looks unlikely that an arbitration meeting can be arranged before the festival takes place next month. This means that film promoters and stars could be faced with a picket line when they walk down the red carpet to see Looper on the opening night.

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