A growing row between unions representing up to 100,000 show business workers and the French government is threatening to cancel the annual Cannes film festival to be held in the Riviera 12-23 May.

Part-time actors and film production technicians have complained about cuts in welfare and unemployment benefits and have threatened to disrupt the world-acclaimed festival.

Restaurant owners in this popular French resort have planned separate protests to highlight the loss to business a cancelled or disrupted event may incur on them.

Festival organisers are meeting with the unions to resolve the crisis while Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin urged unions to negotiate with the body in charge of unemployment benefits.

Wooing the world

The zeitgeist of film festivals has been the mainstay of the European and international movie markets.

While the Academy Awards held in the US focus more heavily on English-language films with particular disregard to Arab and Asian films, the Cannes film festival is known to highlight achievements in the film industries of developing countries.

At the 2003 festival, Uzak, directed by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, won the Grand Prix feature film category, while Panj Asr, directed by Iranian Samira Makhmalbaf, took home the Prix du Jury award.

Both films examine contemporary social issues; 23-year-old Makhmalbaf captures the dreams of one Afghan girl who believes she can one day be president of her country.

Americans bounce back

The 2003 Cannes festival was particularly controversial because it marked a low point in US film representation as political tensions between the Bush administration and the Chirac government over the invasion of Iraq came to the fore.

Only three US films made it into the competition stage of the festival and there were no American celebrities on the jury panels.

This year, however, the US film industry returns to Cannes in full force: maverick director Quentin Tarantino is the jury president, leading three other Americans on the judging panel.

Celebrities like Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Cameron Diaz and Kathleen Turner are likely to be part of a bevy of US entertainers returning to the Riviera.

Michael Moore's movie Fahrenheit 9/11 is expected to open the festival.