Roman Polanski Withdraws From Locarno Festival Amid Protests
Roman Polanski has pulled out of the Locarno Film Festival after the announcement that he would receive a lifetime achievement honor sparked protests.
The 80-year-old director of such classics as Chinatown and The Pianist is still wanted in the United States on 40-year-old statutory rape charges. When the Swiss festival said it would give Polanski a special lifetime achievement award this year, it triggered a backlash among those who believe he should be sent back the U.S. to face trial.
Polanski was also scheduled to introduce his most recent film, Venus in Fur, at an outdoor screening in Locarno’s Piazza Grande on Thursday, accompanied by the film’s star, Polanski’s wife, Emmanuelle Seigner. On Friday, he was scheduled to give a filmmaking master class for festivalgoers and young filmmakers attending the Locarno Summer Academy.
The Locarno Festival called the opposition to Polanski’s visit “unacceptable interference of some in the artistic liberty of the festival.” It added: “We are greatly saddened that the public will thereby be deprived of an important opportunity for cultural enrichment.”
Locarno added that it “continues to affirm its commitment to the principle of free and unfettered artistic expression.”
Local Swiss politicians and many in the Swiss media criticized the decision to honor Polanski and opposed his appearance at Locarno.
Polanski fled the U.S. in 1978 after pleading guilty to charges of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor in a plea bargain.
“I’m sad because I think festival goers are losing a big opportunity to have him here,” Carlo Chatrian, artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s sad when an artist cannot express himself. I understand his decision and I respect it. At the same time, I hope that this will be for the festival a chance to renew the fact that festivals are a meeting point and a place of freedom.”
Chatrian said the festival asked Polanski to reconsider his decision but, in the end, decided to “respect his word.”
The opposition to Polanski’s visit came mainly from local Swiss politicians and the media, who called the Oscar-winning director a pedophile.
Switzerland’s Democratic Party released a strong statement urging its members not to participate in any award ceremony recognizing Polanski. It said this was not to dispute any of his artistic merits, but that an institution largely supported by the public should not honor any man convicted of such a crime.
“Of course, when you use words like pedophile, you cannot say anything against that. But Polanski’s not a pedophile,” said Chatrian. Locarno’s festival director said it still may be possible to set up a remote masterclass with Polanski.
“We’ll see. It’s too soon to say,” he said. “Now we have to digest this and see how we will go on. We will go on. And I always said that Polanski is not the only guest we have.”