January 29, 2010 / 7:47 PM / 10 years ago

Polanski won't be at Berlin despite featured film

BERLIN (Reuters) - Roman Polanski, under house arrest in Switzerland, will not come to the Berlin Film Festival next month even though the director’s latest film will be featured, Berlinale head Dieter Kosslick said Friday.

Polish-born film director Roman Polanski awaits a public talk in Potsdam February 19, 2009. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Kosslick said he had talked on the phone with Polanski, who is fighting extradition to face U.S. sentencing over a 1977 case of unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. There had been some hopes Polanski would come to present “The Ghost Writer.”

“He won’t be coming,” Kosslick told a group of foreign journalists. By tradition films are presented at their first nights by their directors. “And there won’t be any videotaped message. “He thanked me on the phone for picking his film.

“I told him we picked it because it’s a great film. He’s been to the Berlinale often and said he loves the atmosphere here. The film is a political statement. But picking it was not a political statement but rather an artistic statement.”

Last week, a judge in Los Angeles rejected a request by Polanski, who has won Berlin film festival awards in the past, to be sentenced in absence and instead said the Oscar-winning director must return to California.

Polanski, 76, fled California in 1978 and was arrested in September in Switzerland. Polanski formally asked to be sentenced in his absence earlier this month, after a California appeals court suggested that might be a way to resolve the case.

Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in 1977 but skipped bail and fled to France before being sentenced.

The French-Polish national later said he feared the judge would renege on a plea agreement limiting his punishment to the 42 days he had spent behind bars for psychiatric evaluation.

Polanski, whose film “The Ghost Writer” was filmed in Germany with the help of some $6 million in public film subsidy financing, has had a number of films showcased in the Berlinale, one of the world’s three most important festivals.

Polanski’s film “Cul-de-Sac” won the Golden Bear for best film at the Berlinale in 1966, a year after his film “Repulsion” won a silver bear award.

The Berlinale ranks as one of the world’s top three festivals alongside Cannes in May and Venice in September. As the first major film festival of the year, Berlin is seen as important bellwether of the industry’s health.

Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum

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