The woman behind a documentary chronicling filmmaker Roman Polanski's decades-old rape case says his arrest in Zurich last week was a huge surprise.This content was published on October 5, 2009 - 08:58
Marina Zenovich, the director of Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, warns that nobody has anything to gain from the detention of the 76-year-old French-Polish director.
Speaking at a news conference on the sidelines of the Zurich Film Festival, Zenovich said she was "quite shocked" by the arrest. "It's unbelievable," she said.
Zenovich, an American who has been following Polanski's legal problems closely for the past few years, is preparing a sequel to the first film about the director, released to critical acclaim in the US in 2008. Given the upsurge of interest in Polanski, it will go on release in Switzerland on Thursday.
Wanted and Desired looks back at the film director's 1977 trial in Los Angeles, where he pleaded guilty to having unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl. Originally charged with six counts, including rape and sodomy, Polanski was able to strike a deal on a single charge of having sex with a minor.
Filming a documentary about the case wasn't easy for Zenovich. It took two years just to persuade Polanski's lawyers and the trial's prosecution team to talk.
The result led to allegations of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, including on the part of the late Laurence Rittenband, the judge who oversaw the trial. Rittenbrand had allegedly instructed the prosecutors and defence lawyers on how to behave in a way that would boost his image in the media.
Deal or no deal?
Polanski was ordered to undergo a 90-day psychiatric evaluation at Chino State Prison. During this time, he struck a deal with prosecutors that would have seen him sentenced to 42 days already served. Polanski was released but fled the United States on fears the judge would overrule the plea agreement. He has not set foot on US soil since.
Renovich told swissinfo.ch that her film, which took five years to produce, never sought to downplay Polanski's responsibility for his actions.
"Only two people know what really happened. They don't want to speak, and I don't want to excuse Polanski," she said. "What I wanted to show was what happened afterwards."
Last December, Polanski's lawyers appealed for the case to be dismissed. But Polanski did not return to the United States, and the request was rejected. Another is pending before a higher court in Los Angeles.
In July, Polanski's lawyers filed papers accusing Los Angeles prosecutors of making no attempt for three decades to extradite the director.
The Los Angeles Times has reported that a second document 20 days later charged that "no effort has been made to extradite Mr Polanski". The director's lawyers accused prosecutors of seeking to "preserve the unconstitutional status quo and never address the misconduct head on".
"We were all waiting news from the court of appeal and instead we got the news that Polanski had been arrested," said Zenovich.
"Nobody wanted to speak"
Zenovich initially took an interest in the case after hearing Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, and her lawyer say they thought the day the director fled was a sad day for the American justice system. Geimer, now 45, has publicly said she wants the case to disappear. She received an undisclosed cash settlement from Polanski. The Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday, based on newly revealed court documents, that the sum agreed in 1993 was $500,000.
"I found that very strange, but nobody wanted to speak," Zenovich said. "The lawyers were the hardest to convince, but they are also the ones who highlighted the judge's misconduct."
She did not interview Polanski for her first film but wants to talk to him for the sequel.
"This is a Catch-22 situation," Zenovich said. "There are no winners, Samantha Geimer, Polanski nor their families."
However one of her star witnesses has thrown a spanner in the works by admitting that he lied to her.
One of the prosecutors, David Wells, said a few days ago that he had not coached the judge on how to sentence Polanski, contrary to what he claimed on camera in Zenovich's film. That affirmation has helped lead to the renewed appeals from the Polanski lawyers.
She says she is surprised by Wells' turnaround. "The film has been out for over a year, so it seems a bit odd that he now says he lied to me," she added.
Zenovich reckons the latest revelations make little difference, as her film also contains statements by Polanski's lawyer and the other prosecutor, pointing to possible misconduct by the judge.
With open questions remaining, she believes that producing a sequel is an obvious decision. She wonders why Polanski never returned to the US even after the judge, who died in 1993, was taken off the case.
"I have footage through the years, where he says 'I want to go back; I want to settle this'," she told swissinfo.ch.
"I think it's a combination of who this man is and what he went through in this life. He's a survivor. For him these people wanted to kill him. And, in France, he had a family and a life."
Ariane Gigon in Zurich, swissinfo.ch (Adapted from French by Scott Capper)
The US has up to 60 days to confirm an extradition request for Polanski.
The director, who was taken into custody on September 26, can appeal against his arrest within ten days at the Federal Criminal Court.
Polanski can also call for his release on bail and even take the case to the highest Swiss court.
He would be handed over to US authorities within days if he agreed to a simplified extradition procedure.
Born Raymond Polanski to Polish-Jewish parents on August 18, 1933, he spent the first three years of his life in Paris before the family returned to Poland.
He escaped from the Jewish ghetto in Krakow in 1940 as the Germans sealed it off. His mother later died in an Auschwitz gas chamber.
His first full-length feature film after graduation, Knife in the Water, won a number of awards.
In 1969, Polanski's pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, and six others were brutally murdered by followers of cult leader Charles Manson.
Polanski won a best director Oscar for The Pianist in 2003 as well as the Cannes film festival's coveted Palme d'Or for the same film the year before.
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