Above: A still from the 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
BBC News is reporting that famed writer-director Roman Polanski has been taken into custody in Switzerland on a 31-year-old US arrest warrant for having sex with a 13-year-old girl back in 1977. Polanski was traveling from France -- where he fled to 31 years ago to escape a shady judge and possible jail time -- to the Zurich Film Festival to collect a lifetime achievement award. Polanski will now remain in Switzerland to await possible extradition back to the United States, where he was originally indicted on six counts and faced up to life in prison.
Last year Polanski's lawyers filed to have the case dismissed and to have a hearing moved out of an LA court. While the judge agreed that there was misconduct on the part of the original judge, he still found that Polanski would have to return to the United States to apply for a dismissal. Polanski, afraid he'd immediately be arrested as a fugitive, decided not to return. Two years ago the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired premiered at the Sundance Film Festival (later airing on HBO) and re-opened this case to an audience that wasn't as familiar with what all went down between Polanski and the victim, Samantha Geimer, who, in recent years, has asked the court to drop the charges.
From my original Sundance review of Wanted and Desired: "You might wind up asking yourself: 'But was it consensual?' And if it's consensual, does that really make a difference when you're talking about a girl that young? Regardless of how you personally feel about the man and the charges, the film is at its best when it focuses more on Polanski's celebrity image and how the original judge in the case was more interested in looking good for the media than he was in delivering a fair verdict. Perhaps the most fascinating fact (and this was something I did not know) came in the reveal that, when a new judge was assigned to the case in 1997, he agreed to throw out the charges if Polanski were to return to the States -- on one condition: that the hearing be televised. Because of that, Polanski decided against coming back. And who can blame him?"
In France, where Polanski has been living for the past 30 years without trouble due to the country's limited extradition laws, they're appropriately upset and "dumbfounded" by the Swiss' decision to detain the filmmaker. The Zurich Film Festival will still go ahead with its planned retrospective of Polanski's work and a special ceremony will be held Sunday night "to allow everyone to express their solidarity for Roman Polanski and their admiration for his work," according to the festival manager.