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Strikers shutter Avignon

French actors shut down film shoot, theater festival

PARIS — Striking French show business workers halted filming of a Jack Nicholson movie and shuttered the famed Avignon Festival on Wednesday, the second day of their protest over unemployment benefits.

Nicholson tried to persuade strikers not to halt the shoot of the Columbia pic at a bridge in Paris close to the Notre Dame Cathedral in the early hours of Wednesday, a member of the crew said.

“Jack went and talked to the strikers last night. He can speak French, so he can get along fairly well. He told them that it could only be good for the Parisian economy to let the shoot go ahead,” the staff member said. But the actor’s efforts were to no avail.

Diane Keaton and Keanu Reeves also star in the untitled romantic comedy, directed by Nancy Meyers, which was skedded to shoot in Paris earlier this year but was delayed due to the war in Iraq.

“We think we will finish next Thursday,” the staffer said, “but it all depends. We’re only guests here, and there is not much we can do about the situation.”

Desperate organizers have pulled the plug on several fests — the Francofolies music festival in western France was the latest to be canceled Wednesday — while the fate of Avignon’s famed theater festival, France’s top summer event, still hangs in the balance. No plays have been staged in its first two days.

There was widespread confusion among the fest participants and visitors in the southern French city last night, with no clear notion of when and how its fate would be sealed.

In Paris a Rolling Stones concert was able to go ahead Wednesday evening, but only after strikers appeared onstage to tell 60,000 Stones fans, “We can get satisfaction.”

The crowd booed and whistled until the strikers’ enumeration of other workers with similar gripes prompted a sudden round of cheering.

More hours required

The government wants showbiz workers to put in more hours before they are entitled to receive unemployment benefits. But despite bosses and some unions agreeing to the proposals, the hard-line majority unions have vowed to fight measures that they say will further impoverish those on the bottom of the showbiz ladder.

The reforms would require performers to work 507 hours over 10 months to qualify for eight months of benefits rather than 507 hours over 12 months for a year’s benefits.

Culture Minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon called for “an end to the widespread irresponsibility” of the strikers.

France’s former socialist culture minister Jack Lang also weighed in, calling on President Jacques Chirac to suspend the proposals and appoint a mediator.

“There are only hours left. The head of state has to save the festivals and the artistic life of this country,” Lang said on the radio station Europe 1.

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