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VIFF opening party in crisis as unions picket venue Add to ...

There was dramatic, behind the scenes action going on Thursday as the Vancouver International Film Festival tried to avoid a clash with unions over the location of its opening night gala party.

VIFF ran afoul of Teamsters Local 31 by booking for its venue a building owned by Rocky Mountain Railtours, which is caught up in a bitter labour dispute.

“We had used that site several times before and when our staff went to look at it there was no picket line up,” said VIFF director Alan Franey. “We have since learned there was a picket line somewhere else that day. . .but I didn’t learn about this issue until after working hours yesterday.”

He only learned the big party was in jeopardy when Stan Hennessy, president of Teamsters Local 31, and Jim Sinclair, President of the BC Federation of Labour, publicly blasted VIFF for choosing a site where workers have been locked out since June. The company has been functioning with managers and replacement workers filling in.

Mr. Franey said some desperate options were being considered throughout the day Thursday, but no decision had been made. The matter remained unresolved only hours before the opening night party was supposed to be held at the Rocky Mountaineer Station, in Vancouver’s False Creek Flats area.

“We are thinking about the practicality and possibility of a different location. But it’s highly doubtful that could happen now. We are thinking about the implications of cancelling . . .it’s even possible there might be some resolution to the labour dispute. . .we are hoping against hope it will resolve itself,” he said with a sigh.

Mr. Franey said he was stunned when he learned that the Teamsters were going to put a picket line around the party site and that Mr. Sinclair was calling on people not to attend.

But Mr. Sinclair said the VIFF organizers should have seen it all coming, because the Rocky Mountaineer labour dispute has been a big issue in B.C. because of the controversial use of replacement workers.

“Obviously it’s a big mess for everybody and frankly it could have been avoided. The Vancouver Film Festival has been established here for 30 years and the idea that somehow you can . . .[hold a party]with 800 people behind a picket line seems a bit naive at best,” he said.

Mr. Sinclair said he has urged VIFF to move to another location and has offered to help find a site.

Trying to hold it behind a Teamsters picket line would be a mistake, he said, and it would harm VIFF’s image for a long time to come.

“This film festival is known for social justice and progressive things,” said Mr. Sinclair. “It’s not like this [labour dispute]is a non thing, off in the background. This is real hardship for people . . . I got an e-mail from somebody who is locked out, with three kids, who had to give up her apartment and go live in somebody’s basement because she couldn’t afford to pay the rent any more. This is real.”

Mr. Sinclair said the BC Federation of Labour is urging all its members to respect the picket line and he said film industry unions were lining up to join a boycott of the party.

“The bottom line is . . . I think every [union]in the film industry, is saying please don’t go,” said Mr. Sinclair.

He said the Directors Guild of Canada, British Columbia; the Alliance of Canadian Cinema Television and Radio Artists, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees would all be calling on members not to attend.

Crawford Hawkins, Executive Director of the Directors Guild, said his organization had sent out a mass e-mail, Thursday, advising members of the dispute.

But he said the Guild wasn’t going so far as to tell people not to go.

“We can’t tell them not to cross [the picket line] That is at their discretion. It’s a personal decision,” he said.

Mr. Hawkins said he wouldn’t be attending the party himself, but not out of protest.

“I wasn’t invited,” he said.

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