Abel Ferrara Responds to IFC: "Fire-Bombing Theaters Is Not on My Agenda"

Abel Ferrara Headshot - P 2014
Roberto Rocco

Abel Ferrara Headshot - P 2014

The director believes that championing a filmmaker means "distributing his movie as he intended it to be."

Director Abel Ferrara issued a cease and desist letter last week addressed to IFC Films and its global distributor Wild Bunch against the U.S. release of his film Welcome to New York.

The film, inspired by the trial of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is slated for release by IFC on March 27 in theaters and on VOD. The controversy has been brewing since last fall, when Ferrara first learned of IFC's intention to theatrically release the same version they had intended for Showtime, rather than his original director's cut.

In response to the letter, IFC told THR that it is just serving as the middleman, and its contract with Wild Bunch was always to distribute an R-rated version of the film, which Ferrara failed to deliver. In a new statement, Ferrara tells THR that the response is ignoring the long relationship he's had with both IFC Films and Wild Bunch executives in the past.

He claims that IFC is "sidestepping the fact that they knowingly are distributing an unauthorized version of the film" and "are well aware of all the political and artistic issues" at stake. According to Ferrara, championing a filmmaker means to distribute "his movie as he intended it to be," not to work to "change the politics and message the filmmaker is expressing."

In this case, Ferrara says the message of the film is "no means no," referring to the infamous hotel rape scene. In an edited version of the film, the infamous hotel rape scene is turned into a flashback, leaving the maid's credibility open to interpretation. In Ferrara's original film, the guilt of Gerard Depardieu's character is apparent, and the director shows zero sympathy toward men in power who have an abusive relationship with women. As of now, IFC will release the edited version of the film as planned, and Ferrara tells THR he will pursue legal action against both IFC and Wild Bunch for releasing a version of the film he didn't approve.

Read Abel Ferrara's full statement along with IFC's responses:

"…our contract with Wild Bunch (the film's sales agent) is for an R-rated version."

There is a reluctance on IFC's part to acknowledge the personal relationship I have with Arianna Bocco and Jonathan Sehring of IFC. They were both at the premiere in Cannes and the press conference afterward with Gerard Depardieu, Vincent Maraval and myself. They are well aware of all the political and artistic issues here. They are sidestepping the fact that they knowingly are distributing an unauthorized version of the film.

"We offered Mr. Ferrara an opportunity to edit his own R-rated version of the film at our expense, but he did not respond. After his threats of violence toward the IFC Center last September, we decided we could not risk showing the film there."

There were many emails back and forth and face-to-face meetings with IFC, but when I was told they would only distribute theatrically and on VOD the R-rated cut that was needed for Showtime, that's when my conversation with them ended and it became an issue for the lawyers. The precedent here is, one, I don't make R-rated movies, especially concerning this subject matter, and two, IFC and Wild Bunch are well aware of that, as well as being companies that handle unrated films. That's why I am with them. IFC theaters and their VOD outlet is known for their unrated releases. As for violence against their theaters, those comments were metaphorical. I am an artist and a Buddhist, so fire-bombing theaters is not on my agenda.

"It's a core mission of IFC Films to support and champion our filmmakers, and we regret that Mr. Ferrara has refused to engage with us past slinging mud and insults. We'd have welcomed the opportunity to work more closely with him on the film, if he'd been willing."

If you support and champion a filmmaker, you distribute his movie as he intended it to be, not 'work closely' in an attempt to change his or her film and by doing so change the politics and message the filmmaker is expressing. The politics in this case is 'no means no' and 'violence toward women is not acceptable,' but obviously Vincent Maraval does not feel that way, and IFC is supporting him.