When hundreds of movie stars and other celebrities descend on Toronto next month for the annual Toronto International Film Festival, they might have to cross a picket line first if they want to walk the red carpet.
A little-known squad of specialists who inspect and prepare films for projection began picketing the festival's Bell Lightbox cinema headquarters in downtown Toronto this week after much of their work was contracted out to Deluxe Entertainment Services Group. The workers are also picketing the offices of Deluxe, and the picket lines may mushroom to include the gala locations of the festival when it opens on September 6.
Their fight pivots on a vast technological shift in the movie exhibition industry, as cinemas move from old-fashioned celluloid prints to embrace digital projection.
The workers, known as film revisors, inspect every inch of the celluloid copies of films for faults prior to their showing. They fix damaged prints, splice movie trailers to the front of a film, cut together the 20-minute-long celluloid reels into a seamless whole, and ensure the soundtracks align with the pictures.
People close to TIFF say revisors are one reason the festival has a stellar reputation among the world's filmmakers, especially independent directors, who could be out thousands of dollars if a print is damaged.
But most cinemas have phased out celluloid projections, and TIFF recently contracted out the work of checking and preparing the digital files to Deluxe Entertainment.
"This is not work that can be performed in-house," said Jennifer Bell, the festival's vice-president of communications and content management, in an e-mail.
IATSE Local 58, the union representing the seven film revisors affected by the outsourcing, responded that TIFF still has a contractual obligation to use its workers. "They somehow seem to think that the fact that it can't be performed in-house somehow takes away our jurisdiction. It does not," said Jim Brett, the president of the union.
The revisors are not in a legal strike position, and they continue to work even as they conduct the pickets. But Mr. Brett said there is about half as much work for them as usual because much of it has been given to Deluxe.
Labour relations at TIFF have a tense history. The festival's contract with the revisors and projectionists expired in January, 2011, and the two sides haven't met since last April. "In our opinion, this contracting-out is clearly an attempt to undermine the negotiations," Mr. Brett said .
"The collective agreement provides for a process for handling disagreements like this through an arbitration hearing, which we are in the process of scheduling," Ms. Bell said. "This is the process that IATSE and TIFF have agreed to, and this is the way that the issue will be resolved."
An arbitration hearing is not expected until November, at the earliest.