Banner day for protesters

Strikers march, picket, interrupt screenings

On the liveliest day of the Cannes Film Festival so far, a few hundred banner-waving demonstrators marched down the Croisette Saturday while others burst into and halted market screenings at the Star cinema.

A separate group of striking hotel workers picketed in front of the Hotel Carlton, while employees from other top Cannes hotels huddled to discuss a wider hotel strike that’s threatened for Monday.

The good-humored march went off relatively peacefully after a picnic on the beach in the baking sun as riot police mostly watched passively.

The screening sabotage, however, drove buyers mad.

In the theater unspooling Paul Hogan starrer “Strange Bedfellows,” one buyer called out “speak English” as a gang of demonstrators protesting cuts to the showbiz industry’s unemployment benefits system obscured the projection with a placard and started sounding off in French.

“This is France — you must speak French here,” a protester retorted in his native tongue.

With no sign that the demonstrators intended to leave, the lights went up and the audience filed out of the theater, a scene replicated in all the Star’s other salles.

On the Croisette, helmer Michael Moore brought some celebrity glamour to proceedings — and some confusion — as he walked toward the Variety conference area shortly before the march began.

“I agree with them,” he said of the protesters assembled further back along the Croisette.

When the marchers moved off, the demonstrators in front of the Carlton made themselves scarce by retreating inside the hotel courtyard.

“We don’t want to be confused with the other protestors,” a union rep said.

Earlier, about 50 banner- waving protesters blew horns and whistles on the sidewalk in front of the hotel on day three of their strike.

Union spokesman Jean-William Sacchi said two-thirds of the hotel’s 300 permanent staff, including chambermaids and waiters, had gone off the job in the protest over pay.

Since Wednesday, seasonal workers and management have filled in to ensure the film festival’s traditional Carlton dinners and hotel services continue. However, the restaurant was closed Saturday.

“The hotel had a record year last year, and while management has given itself a 10% pay rise, we have to make do with a e26 ($31) festival bonus. We’ve never staged a strike during the festival before, but enough is enough,” Sacchi said.

A Cannes Film Festival official said the event had not changed its schedule at the Carlton. “We’ve had two dinners and there’s another one tonight. If they stop serving, then we’ll have to see, but they served 800 people at the market opening-night party and for the moment everything’s going smoothly.”

(Simon Kingsley contributed to this report.)