Metrograph Labor Issues Prompt Cancellation of Q&A for Pro-Union Doc ‘The Wobblies’

A statement from the filmmakers thanked Metrograph "for their courage in showing 'The Wobblies,' but we condemn their cowardice."
Metrograph movie theater

New York’s Metrograph canceled a Friday night filmmaker Q&A that was to accompany the 1979 pro-labor documentary “The Wobblies,” recently restored and in re-release from Kino Lorber.

A source tells IndieWire that Metrograph management scrapped the Q&A out of concern that ongoing claims of labor issues at the lower Manhattan arthouse would overshadow the movie if the floor was opened up to the audience. The status of another Q&A for a Monday evening screening is yet to be determined, sources tell IndieWire.

Directors Stewart Bird and Deborah Shaffer shared a joint statement with IndieWire, saying, “We recently heard rumors of a conflict between the management of the Metrograph Theater and their staff. While we don’t know any details, we uphold the right of all workers to be guaranteed a safe working environment, fair wages, and to form a union to protect their common interests.”

The film tells the story of the radical labor union the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as IWW and nicknamed The Wobblies.

Bird and Shaffer added that they would introduce the screenings at Metrograph as advertised, and while they thank “management for their courage in showing ‘The Wobblies,’ they “condemn their cowardice in canceling a Q&A with the filmmakers whose work on this historic documentary goes back 45 years.”

In a statement shared with IndieWire, Metrograph representatives said, “Metrograph is passionate about ‘The Wobblies’ and our filmmakers. We plan to screen the film more than 20 times so that as many people have the chance to see it as possible.”

The theater, which opened in 2016, regularly screens independent new and revival films at 7 Ludlow Street and is widely beloved by the New York filmgoing community.

Meanwhile, a group of independent-minded cinema organizers in New York City known as Cine Móvil is planning a “counter-screening” of the film on Saturday, April 30 at 8:00 p.m. It’s set to take place at an undisclosed location in Manhattan. (You can DM them on Instagram for more details and whereabouts.)

Cine Móvil describes itself as “a mobile pop-up cinema spreading revolutionary culture.”

The counter-screening is meant to protest Metrograph’s management, “who are showing the film this weekend despite their long record of labor abuses,” Cine Móvil’s social media post said.

A Cine Móvil source told IndieWire that Metrograph fired its “entire box office staff twice in the past year” and asked them to sign NDAs. The source added that the counter-screening will be attended by a number of recently formed film and arts unions, who will speak to the common labor issues facing the industry.

Earlier this week, staffers at Film Forum demanding a more equitable workplace with improved compensation and rights officially unionized and are now seeking recognition through a National Labor Relations Board election. Meanwhile, unionized workers at Anthology Film Archives went on strike in April, demanding higher wages as staff and management iron out a fresh contract.

Metrograph has been beset by high-level turnover, with artistic and programming director Jake Perlin leaving his post last summer and PR rep Kate Patterson leaving the theater for, of all places, Kino Lorber two weeks ago. While New York theaters were permitted to reopen amid the pandemic as of March 5, 2021 — theaters were among the last businesses allowed to reopen — Metrograph did not open its doors until September 2021. Many theaters had to lay off their staffs as a result of the pandemic, Metrograph included. In July 2020, Metrograph launched a paid streaming service that continues to this day on membership and individual ticket-based levels.

In a statement shared with IndieWire, Kino Lorber said, “We are grateful to Metrograph for being the first theater in New York City to offer a theatrical run to the 4K restoration of Deborah Shaffer and Stewart Bird’s landmark film ‘The Wobblies,’ recently named to the Library of Congress Film Registry. While the cancellation of the Q&A is disappointing for all parties, it is a result of circumstances beyond anyone’s control. We are excited that Metrograph will show the film 20 times to audiences in New York City, as well as present a retrospective of Deborah Shaffer’s other films.”

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