When filmmaker Roman Polanski was arrested Saturday in Switzerland, he was on his way to accept an award for Lifetime Achievement at the Zurich Film Festival.
Polanski’s friend, Swiss filmmaker Otto Weisser, was among the first to publicly run to his defense. “This is for me a shock. I am ashamed to be Swiss, that the Swiss is doing such a thing to brilliant fantastic genius, that millions and millions of people love his work,” Weisser said upon learning the director had been detained by Swiss authorities. “He’s a brilliant guy, and he made a little mistake 32 years ago. What a shame for Switzerland.” By Tuesday, more than 130 heavyweights in the movie industry had taken up Polanski’s cause. An online petition has been signed by directors such as Marin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Pedro Almodovar, as well as actors. Studio chief Harvey Weinstein told CNN in a statement: “We are calling every filmmaker we can to help fix this terrible situation.” Roman Polanski first stormed Hollywood with his psychological thriller, “Rosemary’s Baby,” in 1968. He remains one of the most celebrated directors in Hollywood and the world, despite not having set foot in the United States in more than three decades.
Filmmakers demand Polanski’s release
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Read the petition to free Polanski
“We stand by and await his release and his next masterwork,” said Zurich Film Festival Jury President Debra Winger on Monday on behalf of Polanski. Adrien Brody, who Polanski directed in 2002’s “The Pianist,” had glowing words when it came to his experience working with Polanski. “If you have the guidance from someone you admire, like Roman Polanski, who not only is a gifted director and actor, but who knows the subject matter and in my opinion the character that I portray, implicitly, then, it’s a huge gift,” Brody said. “I learned a great deal about film and the process,” the Academy Award winning actor added. “I spent six weeks without another actor on the set, just Roman and I and a crew — and that’s, that’s a dream come true for an actor. I cherished those memories.” “He is sweet and very strong and is very, very demanding, in the tradition of an auteur,” said Sigourney Weaver about being directed by Polanski in 1994’s “Death and the Maiden.” It’s a reputation Polanski’s earned and maintained, despite his 1977 guilty plea on a statutory rape charge of unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. Watch the positive reaction in Switzerland to Polanski’s arrest The celebrated director fled the United States and settled in France to escape jail, but by the standards of those in Hollywood, the case is ancient history. “We hope today that this latest order will be dropped,” Winger said. “It is based on a three decade old case that is all but dead, except for a minor technicality.” Matthew Belloni, who has has been following the Polanski case for The Hollywood Reporter’s legal blog, said the outpouring of support from the film industry is not surprising. “It is a criminal conviction of a terrible crime, but it is something that the industry is willing to look the other way on,” Belloni said. “If Hollywood really gets to look at itself and judge the personal character of a lot of the artists in the community, there would be a lot of empty seats at the Oscars because a lot of people have personal problems. This sort of is at the extreme level of that.” As Polanski’s star rose after his Oscar-winning hit, “Rosemary’s Baby,” the world got to know the director’s back story. He was the son of Polish Jews whose mother died in a concentration camp even as a young Polanski escaped the Nazis. Polanski grew up to become a famous director and married actress Sharon Tate. He later became the object of national sympathy when Tate was murdered by the Charles Manson Family in 1969. His next big movie, 1974’s “Chinatown,” was nominated for 11 Oscars. That success gave Hollywood its heroic tag line for Polanski: Tragic survivor moves on. Actors from his films said they have felt a certain empathy as they are directed by him. “Roman was one of those poor Krakow ghetto children who had to hide in the latrine,” said Sir Ben Kingsley, who starred with Weaver in “Death and the Maiden.” Brody hailed Polanski for his survival, even in the face of being separated from his parents and losing his mother at Auschwitz. “He survived alone, basically, in hiding,” Brody said. “It’s one of the many things I feel he’s overcome, and what’s wonderful about Roman is that although he’s experienced some tragic things in his life, he also has this unbroken spirit.” After the rape case, American authorities sought his arrest, but he continued to work around the world on movies such as “Tess” and “The Ninth Gate,” traveling to film festivals and movie sets. But it was in 2002 when Polanski rocketed back onto the public stage, with “The Pianist.” The Holocaust film won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, igniting a buzz culminating in three Oscars in 2003, including best actor for Brody and best director for Polanski. Harrison Ford accepted the award in his absence. The crowd at the Kodak Theater roared. The Hollywood Reporter’s Belloni explained Hollywood’s readiness to forgive. “Look at some of the people who have been involved with scandals,” Belloni said. ” “Everyone from Michael Vick, who is now playing football again, to Mel Gibson, who has been involved in a lot of scandals, now he’s working again. America is a very, very forgiving culture, and Hollywood itself. If you are a talent, the industry is willing in many ways to look the other way.” And the industry isn’t alone in wanting to put the past aside.
Polanski’s victim, Samantha Geimer, told CNN’s Larry King in 2003, that she wished the story and the case had ended, soon after it began three decades ago. “The publicity was so traumatic and so horrible his punishment was secondary to just getting this whole thing to stop,” Geimer said. “It was crazy. I never wanted him to go to jail.”