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On September 26, 2009, Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski took a plane to Switzerland, where he was going to receive an award from the Zurich Film Festival. As soon as he arrived, he was escorted to what he thought was a VIP section.
He was dead wrong.
Instead, the Rosemary's Baby director was arrested in relation to the well publicized case in 1977, when he pled guilty to having unlawful sexual intercourse with Samantha Geimer (then 13-years-old) at Jack Nicholson's house in Los Angeles. After 42 days of psychiatric evaluation in prison, he fled the country upon suspecting the judge would renege on his promise of probation. He then managed to direct several jewels (Tess, Death and the Maiden, The Pianist) and a few bombs (Pirates), but cemented his legacy with a well-deserved Oscar-win as Best Director in 2003 for The Pianist (he had been nominated to the Oscars five times, and won a Best Director Golden Globe in 1975 for Chinatown). Geimer and Polanski settled out of court in 1993, but the U.S. authorities still want Polanski.
In Switzerland he spent two months in jail and then was subjected to house arrest at his home in Gstaad, until Swiss authorities rejected the U.S. extradition and freed him on July 12, 2010. Once again, he had gotten away.
Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir (which will be shown Sunday at the Santikos Embassy as part of the Jewish Film Festival) is Polanski in his own words during house while arrest being interviewed by Andrew Braunsberg, his friend since 1964 and producer of Macbeth, The Tenant, and What?
Braunsberg throws softballs at best, but this is no b.s. attempt at an in-depth Polanski exposé: it's just two friends, talking, and showing class while saying: "This is Polanski, you idiot, not the scandals!" Paradoxically, the often banal tone of the conversation does much more to reveal Polanski's feelings and emotions than many of the so-called "serious" documents written or filmed about him.
Polanski, the man, tells us with heartbreaking emotion about the day he saw his father for the last time. It is a moment that makes Polanski choke, and us wonder, what it would be like to lose your whole family in the gas chamber. And Polanski, the artist, shows us how art was able to heal and transform his life when all the odds where stacked against him (yes, he also remembers the murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate by the Manson Family in 1969, but not as you would expect). Above all, the film is a first-person account of the mind of an artist and a must for aspiring filmmakers who wonder what it takes to execute a work of art (knowing how a camera works is far from enough).
But Polanski is just one of many highlights of the festival. For the last 12 years, the JFF has taken pride in the fact that it has never screened a bad film; its consistency in selecting top-quality movies is rare in regional festivals, and this year is no exception. Two of those films will also have the presence of illustrious guests.
Historian, novelist, politician and Nazi hunter Dr. Michael Bar-Zohar (author of (Enigma, the book upon which the Kate Winslet movie was based) will talk on Monday at 7:30 p.m. before and after the screening of The Lying Game. And on Wednesday, February 13, at 5 p.m., director Ronit Kertsner will talk about his documentary Torn, the amazing story of Catholic priest Romuald Waszkinel, who later in life discovered he was born Jakub Weksler from Jewish parents killed in the Holocaust.
Yet, perhaps the best film is the festival's closer Yossi, director Eytan Fox's LGBT follow-up to his acclaimed Yossi & Jagger (2002), and the only film to receive a perfect score by the festival's screening committee this year (of which Current contributor Steven G. Kellman is a member).
"The film is so gut wrenchingly poignant, personal and genuine that the members of the committee could all relate to it on some level," festival director Betsy Cowan told the Current. "By closing with this film, we are assured the audience will walk away and say 'Wow, what an amazing festival!'"
The Day I Saw Your Heart (8pm)
A Battle in the Gaza Sea (2pm)
Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir (5pm)
The Flat (5pm),
The Lying Game (7:30pm)
Kaddish for a Friend (7:30pm)
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