Venice Film Festival boss Alberto Barbera has defended his decision to include new films by disgraced directors Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Luc Besson, stating that he is "a festival director, not a judge."
The 80th Venice Film Festival announced its impressive line-up yesterday, which includes some of the most anticipated films of the year. However, some inclusions have already sparked controversy and, for many, stand out for the wrong reasons.
The prestigious festival is set to headline films directed by Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, despite calls for the directors to not be included in major filmgoing events, due to their histories of sexual misconduct accusations.
At best, it’s a bold statement to separate the art from the artist; at worst, it’s an endorsement of abusive behaviour.
Allen’s film Coup de Chance, a thriller entirely in French, will premiere at the festival, regardless of the director being accused of sexual abuse against his adopted daughter in 1992, allegations for which he was never charged and which he has denied.
Polanski’s film, The Palace, will also screen Out of Competition, despite the director being accused of sexual assault of a minor in 1977. Upon learning that he would be sentenced to prison time in the US, Polanski fled to Europe and the judge decided years later to dismiss the charges against him.
The allegations have made both controversial octogenarian directors personae non gratae on the festival circuit, especially in the wake of the MeToo movement. Allen has faced production and distribution issues, and his four-picture production deal with Amazon was dropped in 2019 after he expressed sympathy for Harvey Weinstein. Polanski has not faced similar production problems and is still regarded as one of Europe’s most talented filmmakers, despite six other women accusing him of sexual misconduct over the years. He won an Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture in 2003 for The Pianist, even if he was unable to attend the ceremony due to his self-imposed exile from the US, as he would be subject to arrest if he returns.
“I don’t see where the issue is”
Venice has never shied away from controversial picks when it comes to their curation, choosing not to shun certain directors because of scandals and allegations. The festival programmed Polanski’s then-latest film, An Officer and A Spy, in 2019.
This year, they’ve even chosen Luc Besson and his new film, Dogman, to compete for the coveted Golden Lion. Since 2018, multiple women have alleged sexual misconduct against Besson and accused him of rape. The director has denied any wrongdoing, and even if the charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence by a French court last month, the director’s reputation has been left in tatters.
Following the announcement of these three films, Venice boss Alberto Barbera remains unfazed and has defended the distinction between the artist and the individual's actions.
Speaking to THR Roma, Barbera has defended his decision to include these three directors in Venice’s official line-up. He stressed that both Allen and Besson were exonerated from their respective accusations, stating that “from a formal and legal point of view, Besson and Allen were acquitted, and Besson never even had to face a trial.”
“Allen was acquitted twenty years ago, twice, by the charges. I do not see why we are here discussing it,” he added.
Regarding Polanski, Barbera said: “I don’t understand why one cannot distinguish between the responsibilities of the man and those of the artist. Polanski is 90 years old, he is one of the few working masters, he made an extraordinary film… It may be the last film of his career, although I hope he does like De Oliveira, who made films until he was 105. I stand firmly among those who in the debate distinguish between the responsibility of the man and that of the artist.”
Barbera doubled down on his decision in an interview with Variety, saying “I don’t see where the issue is”, regarding the inclusion of Woody Allen and Luc Besson.
He continued by saying that Polanski has “admitted his responsibility.”
“He’s asked to be forgiven. He’s been forgiven by the victim. The victim has asked for the issue to be put to rest. I think that to keep beating on Polanski means seeking a scapegoat for other situations that would deserve more attention.”
Concluding, Barbera described himself as "a festival director, not a judge."
"I judge the artistic qualities of films, and from this perspective, I don’t see why I should not invite Polanski’s film to Venice.”
Woody Allen has been confirmed to attend the world premiere of his new film. No news for the moment on Besson, and Polanski will not be able to attend.
It remains to be seen whether the controversy will overshadow other films in the programme, but chances are that the festival will manage to weather this storm, considering the calibre of this year’s vintage and only Besson’s film being in Competition.
The 80th Venice International Film Festival will take place from 30 August to 9 September.