Andy Serkis has backed cinema employees calling for improvements to wages and conditions as they staged a protest at the gala premiere of his directorial debut at the BFI London Film Festival.
The Lord Of The Rings star unveiled his first feature as a filmmaker at the opening night gala of the festival, where protesters banged drums, chanted and waved placards as they demanded the London living wage from Picturehouse cinemas.
Arriving on the red carpet for the premiere of Breathe, which stars Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy as real-life polio patient Robin Cavendish and his wife Diana, Serkis told the Press Association: “I completely agree with what they are standing for, it’s outrageous.
“Of course they need a decent living wage and an equal living wage, they have every right to protest and I would be out there with them if I wasn’t on the red carpet.”
Protesters waved banners saying “Living staff, living wage”, “Living wage 4 Picturehouse staff” and “Ritzy strikes back” close to where the stars were arriving for the premiere.
Multiple events will be held at Picturehouse cinemas during the festival, which runs until next weekend.
Clare Stewart, director of the BFI London Film Festival, said: “The BFI pays the London living wage and we certainly encourage all of our partners to do the same and it’s really a matter for Picturehouses and their employees and so we absolutely support the integrity of any worker’s right to protest their conditions.”
Amanda Nevill, CEO of the BFI, added: “There are cinemas in London that don’t pay the London living wage and just to be really clear, the BFI has always paid the London living wage and is proud to do so.”
Asked how she felt about having protesters at the opening night gala of the festival, she added: “Film has always been about protest.”
Kelly Rogers, a former employee at Picturehouse cinema the Ritzy and a representative for Bectu, which organised the protest, said between 40 and 50 Picturehouse employees joined the event, adding up to more than 100 supporters overall.
She said there will be nine days of strike action at the Picturehouse Central and Hackney Picturehouse during the festival and she hopes the action prompts the BFI to pull events from Picturehouse cinemas.
She added: “We have been striking for a year, we have to take the protest to where they can’t ignore us.”
Of Serkis’s comments, she said: “It’s a boost to our morale and enables us to put the issue on a wider platform to magnify our voice. He’s welcome to join us on the picket line anytime.”