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Director Marina Zenovich’s entry in this year’s New York Film Festival, Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out, offers one of the more fascinating side notes of the festival. Such filmInline image 1s make this 50th year edition strong not only in terms of its main slate but for sidebars like the Cinema Reflected program, one that includes films like this documentary which are about filmmaking and the filmmakers behind the process.
Zenovich first made her mark with her previous doc, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired in 2008. It concerned film director Roman Polanski and his sexual abuse case, examining the events that led to Polanski fleeing the United States after being embroiled in a controversial trial, and his unstable reunion with his adopted country.
This follow-up to that film, Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out details Polanski's successful legal battle to avoid extradition to the US, a battle that took place after Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired came out.
Independent director and producer Zenovich has made some other films about actors and directors including Who Is Bernard Tapie? (a study of the French politician/convicted criminal turned actor) and Independent’s Day (about the Sundance Film Festival and the indie film world featuring directors Steven Soderbergh, Neil Labute and Greg Mottola among others).
These documents ask important questions about who filmmakers and film people are and -- in Polanski’s case -- what allowances should or can be made when an artist known for doing revolutionary work steps far beyond socially accepted norms. In 1977, when he was accused of drugging and having sex with 13 year-old actress wanna-be, the Polish born Holocaust survivor was both an internationally recognized Oscar-winning director (Rosemary’s Baby) and tragic figure since his wife Shron Tate and their unborn baby had been slaughtered by the Charles Manson Family in 1969.
And, as Zenovich outlines here, she’s on board to direct a film about the late pioneering black comedian/actor Richard Pryor -- another creator who steps out beyond the pale of acceptable social behavior.
The following Q&A is gleaned from the press conference preceding her NYFF screenings.
Q: At what point after Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired came out that you felt like you had to do a follow up?
MZ: The [first] film came out in 2008, premiered at Cannes, played at Sundance and then, it was in December of 2008, that his lawyers told me that they were going to use the film as evidence. I pretty much was ready to move on after five years but couldn’t stop myself from continuing to film. It was originally going to be a short film.
I had an interview with Mr. Polanski scheduled in November of 2009. I started filming in January of 2009 and for [the] nine months after my film had re-opened the case which was completely unplanned. It was just something that happened as I was investigating.
Q: Do you think Roman Polanski will ever return to the States or will this never go away?
MZ: I love that Polanski’s attorney is optimistic and I’m an optimistic person, but I don’t know if this is the case.
Q: What is your relationship with Polanski now?
MZ: It all starts with him, but our relationship is complicated to say the least. I can’t speak for his team, but I think they wanted to use the first film as a way to resolve the case and they never thought he would be arrested as a result.
It’s very much a mixed bag. He hasn’t seen the film yet so I don’t know what he thinks about it or how he feels about the whole thing. It was an extremely difficult time for him, his family, the girl Samantha Geimer and her family. Our relationship is complicated.
Q: At the end of the film it becomes like a real-world version of Chinatown. It’s larger than anyone could imagine.
MZ: It certainly didn’t seem like that when I decided to follow it up with the short. I had no idea what the short was going to be about other than seeing what happened, but I had no idea it would become a political international thriller and that’s what I responded to.
A lot of people wouldn’t talk to me, so I had to draw my own conclusion and I feel good about it. He’s used as a pawn despite what he did, which is horrible; he’s used as a pawn in an international game.
There were a lot of things happening in Switzerland that I couldn’t cover in the film because it’s hard enough following the Polanski case, let alone following worldwide financial collapse. We tried to do both as much as we could. I could make a whole other film about Switzerland and UBS, but no one will talk to me.
Q: It’d be a great end to the trilogy.
MZ: I don’t think so. I’m pretty much done with this. I didn’t know it would take this long. But I’m very interested in the whole topic.
Q: These warrants, like the one for Polanski, are not normally honored in Europe. There’s a class element to this story.
MZ: That’s their opinion. There are a lot of people who are going to watch this and say, “who cares if he was mistreated, he broke the law.”
This case brings out a lot of venom on both sides and I just choose to document what I was interested in. I don’t know what to say. I leave it to you to say it. Not really much of an answer.
Q: Was the adult Samantha Geimer easy to approach? Did she seem eager to talk or was she defensive?
MZ: For me, the film drips with irony on every level. Samantha Geimer has always been straight on with me. Every time I see her in the film I appreciate her honesty in regards to what she said in the film.
She’s writing a book, so I don’t know, this ended up being part of her story. She would say, “I want to write a book, so I’m going to write a book.”
She’s beautiful like that, she’s not hiding. She was easy to talk to from the beginning. The most difficult people were the lawyers in the first film, Polanski’s lawyers. I had a cut of the movie that didn’t even have him in it because he wouldn’t talk to me.
The DA in the case, we had a mutual connection that took me a year and a half to be able to talk to him. With this film I was able to get the French lawyer to talk, but none of the other lawyers. Now they might be sorry because I think it would be good if they were in the film, but they don’t want to talk.
And I got Samantha’s mom, which was very interesting to finally meet her and hear what she has to say.
Q: Has there been any word from David Wells since his recanting of his statements in your earlier Polanski film -- he kind of betrayed you and called into question both his integrity and that of LA’s whole court culture?
MZ: No, I haven’t heard from him. But I do think it’s a great study in body-language when you see him on Anderson Cooper.
Q: It was important to have the women at the heart of this case -- Geimer and her actress/mother Susan Gailey...
MZ: I was happy to get the women in the film, there weren’t many. Susan Gailey likes to laugh and that is her truth, and I tried to have her not laugh. Take from that what you will. People process what happens to them in different ways and both she and Sam laugh a lot.
As an interviewer it was extremely difficult to get her to settle. I got a few moments, and that’s all I was going for. I don’t like the tabloidness of it all. There are differing opinions on what she did, on what he did, I never chose to focus on what happened that night because I feel like I could never know. You have what you’ve heard; other people have what they’ve heard and I think it’s just going to die with everyone.
There are six or seven charges and he plead guilty to one, so in the eyes of the court it’s one charge, but in the eyes of everyone else it’s the others [that people focus on].
I’m happy that I got her to talk. I think my first film was cathartic for her in some way. It was cathartic for everyone involved and made them make peace with it for themselves. But I certainly didn’t edit her to look silly.
Q: Is that your voice we hear behind the camera urging Susan Gailey to say his name? She’s never able to say it.
MZ: I know, and that speaks volumes.
Q: Do you think Geimer would agree with those words, that judgment that Polanski drugged and raped a child?
MZ: I had to be objective and show both sides, and as I said, there’s a lot of venom on both sides when it comes to this, but I had to put that in there. You’d have to ask Sam. I believe that she wouldn’t, but you’d have to ask her.
I know when Whoopi Goldberg said that it wasn’t “rape-rape”, she agreed with Whoopi and that was something that was interesting to me but it didn’t make it into the film. I was just astounded at the venom about this case and I had to show both sides, that’s part of my job.
Q: French philosopher/media personality Bernard-Henri Lévy said that everyone becomes his or her own little tribunal.
MZ: Which was what it was like. It was a really crazy time and it still brings up… I sometimes don’t mention it because it makes people kind of go crazy.
Q: I imagine this would make you run screaming from making films in Switzerland or Los Angeles. What do you have planned next? And what do you think of that UBS whistleblower that went to prison.
MZ: I’m going to the Zurich Film Festival next week, so we’ll see how I’m received there. This has been an extremely difficult film to make. I don’t want to make any more legal films. I’m actually editing a film about Richard Pryor. I don’t know what to say. This is so odd; it’s hard to stay connected because I can’t see you.
At this point I’d like to make a romantic comedy and my son would like me to make a children’s film.
Documentaries are really, really hard and it’s almost like you’re working with found objects. The found objects being If you get people to talk to you, what they say to you and then you’re trying to rub it together and create something.
And in this film in particular a lot of people didn’t want to talk and that’s part of the whole thing and it’s frustrating.
And although I love the challenge it takes it out of you, we’ll see what they say in Switzerland. I think they’ll treat me nicely because that’s just how the Swiss are, but who knows what they think.
And I’m fascinated by Bradley Birkenfeld, that’s an interesting subject in and of itself, but the problem is getting these people to talk.
In the first film I ended uncovering something I didn’t even know of that just fell into my lap and now you’re expected to do it all the time. That’s what’s hard. It’s a great challenge, but it’s just difficult.
Q: Are you taking a similar approach with the Richard Pryor film to what you did with the Polanski films?
MZ: The Polanski films were my idea, so they were passion projects. Someone came to me with the Richard Pryor documentary idea and I’m a big Pryor fan and I didn’t know what he had been through in his life, so it was a bit of a discovery for me. We just starting editing, so we’re still figuring out how we’re going to attack it. I’ll let you know.
What’s funny to me is that ended up being another difficult man with the initials RP. The Polanski film was really about something that happened as seen through his life; where this one is going, I’m not sure yet. We’re almost done with the interviews and then we’ll see.
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