Venice Still Hoping for Sag-Aftra Waivers

With both the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA still on strike, there’s been a lot of talk about the knock-on impacts on this year’s film circuit. Especially on the red carpet so critical for some of the largest festivals. In an interview given early last week, Venice director Alberto Barbera is still hopeful that the majority of the stars working on independent productions can get once of the coveted SAG-AFTRA waivers to allow them to work the red carpet while on strike. We turned to Brandon Blake, entertainment attorney Los Angeles at Blake & Wang P.A, for further perspective.

Brandon Blake

Impressive Lineup

From art-house favorites to films near-guaranteed to feature in this year’s awards lineups, the Venice film festival doubtless has a glittering lineup for this year. With the Venice Film Festival returning between Aug. 30 to Sept. 9 for its 80th iteration, it’s the front-runner of festival season, and likely where SAG-AFTRA’s leniency on appearances will be first tested.

Doom-and-gloom predictions that the festival would lose producers left and right have come to basically nothing. Only one major title (Challengers, previously lined up for the opening night film) has actually been pulled. MGM has pushed its release date back to next year, doubtless hoping the strike will be resolved by then and star Zendaya able to once again boost the film’s profile. Most other keenly anticipated films, from Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla to Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things and Bradley Cooper’s Maestro have decided to take the risk and show.

A Positive Strategy

As we’ve looked at previously, Venice’s committee has gone into the expanded strike environment with an upbeat outlook. This despite the news of SAG-AFTRA’s strike breaking quite literally over the original Venice lineup announcement. While the loss of Challengers will certainly be felt, the fact that so many of the original lineup have decided to stick with the festival must be a breath of relief for them. Sadly, it is almost guaranteed that there will be less star talent on the red carpet this year, however.

For the moment, Barbera is reasonably confident the only casualties will be the actors working most closely with larger platforms and studios, however- like the Netflix films still being presented. With SAG-AFTRA now offering the opportunity to apply for a strike waiver if the production meets key criteria- most notably the film being truly independently produced- there’s some hope the red carpet won’t be entirely empty. However, it is a case of wait and see. SAG-AFTRA will first prioritize waiver approval for production companies needing to start (or re-start) productions, before anything promotional will be addressed. But for now, spirits are high.

In fact, he’s found another positive spin- that the independent films on show at Venice this year will get more of a moment in the sun for it. With considerable recovery in the market for smaller productions, including some runaway successes already this year, this could be the perfect moment for it, too. After all, the festival circuit has done a lot to keep the cinema experience alive through the pandemic already, why not a little more?

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