French Film Academy Board Resigns Amid Polanski, Management Controversy

Venice Film Festival
Roman Polanski's 'An Officer and a Spy'

The general assembly of France's Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma will meet after the Cesar Awards on Feb. 28 to elect a new leadership.

The board of directors of France's Film Academy has announced their collective resignation, responding to weeks of criticism centered on filmmaker Roman Polanski, the lack of diversity among nominees for the Academy's César awards and a general lack of transparency.

The board made the announcement late Thursday, just two weeks ahead of the 2020 César Awards, which the Academy organizes and which are considered the French equivalent of the Oscars.

"To honor those who made films in 2019, to regain serenity and make the cinema festival a celebration, the board of birectors of the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma made a unanimous decision to resign," the statement reads. "This collective resignation will allow the complete renewal of the association’s management."

The Academy said it would hold a general assembly of its members after this year's Césars, which will be held Feb. 28 in Paris, to elect a new board.

The board's resignation was triggered by an open letter to French newspaper Le Monde, signed by some 400 of the country's leading filmmakers, which called the Academy's leadership dysfunctional and "a vestige of an era that we would like to be over, that of an elitist and closed system."

The French Academy is privately run and financed by dues from its members, who vote for the Césars. But members do not appoint the Academy board, which controls how the organization is run and how its money is spent. Members have complained there is no financial transparency at the Academy.

The filmmakers called for the 4,700 members of the César Academy elect their own representatives, as is down the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which vote for the Oscars. “We have no voice,” the letter added.

The letter criticized Alain Terzian, the academy’s president, for refusing to allow Claire Denis and Virginie Despentes, both well-known and outspoken feminists, to attend a January dinner associated with the awards. Young actors attending the even were allowed to bring along an older filmmaker of their choosing but the two who selected Denis and Despentes were refused.

Terzian has also come under fire after daily Libération published a detailed account of alleged conflicts of interests between his production company and Canal+, the official French broadcaster of the César Awards.

Scandal and controversy have overshadowed the run-up to 2020 Césars after Polanski's new film, An Officer and a Spy (J'accuse), picked up 12 Cesar nominations, including for best film and director, leading the field. The 86-year-old Polanski has been a fugitive from U.S. justice since 1978 for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. His nominations sparked outrage among feminist groups who had called for a boycott of the film.

"12 César nominations for Roman Polanski’s J’accuse. 12, like the number of women who accuse him of pedo-criminal rape," feminist groups wrote in an open letter Monday to the French press, referring to the many other women who have come forward to accuse the director of sexual assault.

The latest accusation comes from French actress and photographer Valentine Monnier, who alleges Polanski carried out an "extremely violent" assault at his Swiss chalet in 1975 when she was 18, a claim the helmer denies. Polanski has denied all the new allegations against him, most of which date back decades.

On Wednesday, several feminist organizations, including the Feminist Collective Against Rape, the International Association of Victims of Incest and Tolerance Zero, signed an open letter, published Wednesday in daily Le Parisien, titled "If Rape Is an Art, Give Polanski All the Césars."

The letter called upon French Academy voters to not mark their ballots for Polanski or An Officer and a Spy.

An Officer and a Spy tells the true story of counter-espionage officer Georges Picquart, who defied orders and embarked on a compromising mission to clear the name of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French-Jewish officer unfairly accused of spying for Germany in the late 1890s. The film premiered in Venice, where it won the runner-up Grand Jury Prize.

In spite of calls for a boycott of the movie's release in France, An Officer and a Spy has racked up more than 1.4 million admissions for a $12 million box office take, making it one of Polanski’s most successful films ever in the country. It has been sold to most major territories by Playtime, though it has yet to close a U.S. deal for the movie.