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London Film Festival Opens With 'Saltburn' Premiere as U.K. Crew Stages Protest Outside

Organized by an anonymous group of below-the-line workers, the demonstration was held to "make a very clear statement" about the impact of the strikes on the U.K. industry and its "unsustainable" reliance on Hollywood.

The actors strike made its presence known at opening night of the BFI London Film Festival on Wednesday night in the British capital and not simply through the lack of star power in attendance.

Ahead of the European premiere of Emerald Fennell's Saltburn at the Royal Albert Hall, a small demonstration by U.K. crew was held to highlight the plight of below-the-line workers in the midst of the work stoppage, which has had a crippling effect on the British production sector. Around 30 people held aloft banners declaring that "UK cast and crew are the backbone of this industry" on an overpass overlooking the red carpet, while others distributed leaflets as guests arrived.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the protest -- entitled "Crew Call for Change" and organized by an anonymous team behind the popular Instagram account @britcrewstories -- a member of the group said that their intention wasn't to "disrupt" the Saltburn premiere or protest the festival itself.

"But we really do want to use the opportunity to make a very clear statement -- despite the celebration, the below-the-line workforce who rarely get to see a red carpet have been suffering and we are not going away," this group member said.

They also added that, with Saltburn being distributed by both Warner Bros. and Amazon, they wanted any representative from the companies to have "no choice but to see or hear us."

The opening of the London Film Festival often serves as a backdrop for various protests, most unrelated to film, but the one on Wednesday night was arguably the most prominent concerning a major crisis facing the U.K. industry, so heavily reliant on inward investment from Hollywood studios and streamers. According to a recent survey cited by protest organizers, 75 percent of the U.K. film and TV workforce is currently out of work, with 35 percent struggling financially and almost a quarter saying they didn't see themselves in the industry in five years due to the current instability.

While the organizers said they were in "full support of a resolution" to the SAG-AFTRA actors strike in the U.S. and backed their demands to resolve the dispute in a "fair and satisfactory way," they noted that the the U.K.'s domestic workforce was "not on strike, yet are subject to those disputes."

Although the @britcrewstories group professed to not having the solutions for the current crisis, it did suggest that the U.K. crew union BECTU, alongside the British Film Institute, British Film Commission and screen sector trade body PACT, could be doing more to assure and protect the U.K. workforce and industry and campaign for more domestic investment alongside the "incredible influx" from the U.S.

"This episode has starkly demonstrated that almost at every level, we have rapidly become entirely reliant on [studios and streamers]," they told THR. "This is simply unsustainable."

As for the premiere itself, while Saltburn writer/director Fennell was the star attraction on the red carpet, the actors strike meant that the film's lead stars including Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi and Rosamund Pike weren't in attendance.

BECTU, meanwhile, is organizing its own demonstration on Oct. 5 in London's Leicester Square, one calling on the AMPTP to "negotiate swiftly to reach an agreement with SAG-AFTRA."

The London Film Festival runs Oct. 4-15. Alongside Saltburn, other major screenings include the world premieres of Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, The Book of Clarence and The Kitchen.

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