International Turmoil Brews as Roman Polanski Fights Extradition
We're about 48 hours removed from Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland -- a drop in the bucket of what could be a protracted international battle around the 76-year-old fugitive filmmaker's extradition to the United States, where he fled sentencing after a guilty plea in his notorious child-rape case 31 years ago. And while Polanski prepares his defense (he will contest the extradition), the film world is taking stock -- and taking sides.
If you're to take one lesson from this whole sordid affair, it would probably be to not underestimate the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. It was revealed Sunday that prosecutors had coordinated Polanski's arrest with Swiss officials in Zurich, where they knew the Oscar-winning director would be in town receiving the Zurich Film Festival's lifetime achievement award and teaching a master class. That is a long, long memory, and not an especially healthy one, according to some. "It seems like an especially inauspicious time for the L.A. County district attorney's office to be spending some of our few remaining tax dollars seeing if it can finally, after all these years, put Roman Polanski behind bars," wrote the LAT's Patrick Goldstein.
Maybe, maybe not. After all, theories abound that the Swiss were just trying to do the States a solid amid an ugly tax-evasion scandal involving account holders at the Swiss bank UBS. Still, detaining Polanski was the easy part. Not only does he not want to get back on a plane to L.A., but his French lawyer said he's resolved to fight the extradition process as long as it takes -- which could be months. (The U.S. Justice Department has yet to make an official extradition request, Swiss officials told the AP.) Polanski's legal team in California could use the time to prepare; they confessed to being just as shocked as their client that prosecutors would stage a coup like this now -- especially since he has long owned a home in Switzerland and was reportedly editing his latest film, The Ghost, there this summer.
Meanwhile, the international outcry for Polanski's release radiated from its epicenter in Zurich, where red "Free Polanski" buttons made the film festival rounds Sunday and jury president Debra Winger (!) issued a statement accusing the Swiss judiciary of "philistine collusion. [...] We hope today this latest order will be dropped. It is based on a three decade old case that is all but dead but for minor technicalities. We stand by and wait for his release and his next masterwork." Petitions signed by Wong Kar-wai, Monica Bellucci, Stephen Frears and other creative luminaries followed shortly thereafter. Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux even enlisted Harvey Weinstein of all people, who told Screen Daily that he's mobilizing even more filmmakers to come to Polanski's aid in the days and weeks ahead.
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