Italian cultural life stops as art world goes on strike

Cinemas and theaters were closed and concerts were canceled across Italy Friday for a strike to protest budget cuts planned for arts funding. Art houses and festivals announced cancellations, including Italy's prestigious "La Scala" opera house, that said it was canceling its Friday performance of Rossini's "The Barber of Seville."

In Rome, most cinemas were closed all day for the strike.

Italy's Anica film industry association said the government's proposed budget would significantly lower its contribution to a special arts fund, from Ђ464 million (US$556 million) to Ђ300 million (US$360 million), putting 5,000 companies and 60,000 jobs at risk.

"The attack against show business and citizens' fundamental right to culture has, these days, reached new heights," Anica said in a statement posted on its Web site.

In Rome, unions and associations called for a large demonstration at a congress hall and former movie theater. The ANSA news agency reported that such famous names as directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, actress Stefania Sandrelli, and movie directors Ettore Scola and Michele Placido said they would attend, the AP informs.

The strike derails the opening, originally scheduled for Friday, of Roberto Benigni's new film, "La Tigre e la Neve" (The Tiger and the Snow), a comedy set against the tragic backdrop of the war in Iraq.

"The opening of my film is a party ruined not by the strike but by the cuts," Benigni was quoted as saying by ANSA. "The strike is absolutely right."

Separately, Italy's three main labor unions called earlier this week for a four-hour general strike for Nov. 25 to protest the 2006 budget proposal of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government.

The budget, which must be approved by parliament before the end of the year, includes some Ђ20 billion (US$24 billion) in spending cuts and revenue-raising measures which aim to keep Italy's deficit in check.


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