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Last year, Abel Ferrara called the proposed U.S. release of an unapproved version of his Dominique Strauss-Kahn film, Welcome to New York, a “corporate assault” on “the freedom of the artist.” IFC Films, the U.S. distributor of the movie, is moving forward regardless and recently announced a March 27 theatrical and VOD release of the edited film. In response, Ferrara issued a cease and desist letter last Friday addressed to IFC Films in New York and to the film’s global distributor Wild Bunch in Paris.
The letter claims that the edited version violates his contractual right of final cut and goes way beyond R-rated cuts in order to change the “political and moral content” of the film, at great risk to Ferrara’s reputation. He says he intends to commence legal action if IFC Films goes ahead with its planned release next week.
Inspired by the trial of former IMF-head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Welcome to New York stars Gerard Depardieu in a much lauded performance depicting the widely publicized fall from grace in which Strauss-Kahn was accused of raping a hotel maid. When it screened in Cannes last year, it received positive reviews for its biting story and raw performances. The Hollywood Reporter called the film “scandalous” and “uproarious.”
“As a filmmaker and a human being, I detest the destruction of my film,” said Ferrara in a new statement. “Behind all these entities are individuals, in this case Arianna Bocco, Jonathan Sehring and Vincent Maraval, who feel they can deny my contractual right of final cut, which is simply my freedom of expression.”
“Some people wear hoods and carry automatic weapons, others sit behind their desks, but the attack and attempted suppression of the rights of the individual are the same,” he continued. “I will defend the right of free speech till the end and, I ask all who believe, as I do, that they not support the showing of this film on their networks, in their theaters or wherever.”
Back in September, Wild Bunch head Vincent Maraval told THR that the cuts were “very minor” and were only to “help the film’s flow.” In actuality, the IFC version of the film is cut down a full 17 minutes from its original 125-minute length to 108- minutes.
The edited version of the film shown in Europe cut an entire subplot scene, removed overt political dialogue and shaved down a hotel orgy scene with multiple jump cuts. Most notably, it moved the hotel rape scene to a flashback, leaving the maid’s credibility more open to interpretation.
“The version being released in the U.S. may lead viewers to think that maybe she imagined it,” said Ferrara. “It does not respect the woman who was raped at all, and the fact that my name is on this film is a crime.”
As previously reported, Wild Bunch head Vincent Maraval maintains that because of financial obligations, IFC had always asked for an R-rated version of the film, and Ferrara was contractually obligated to deliver one. When he failed to deliver, Wild Bunch cut the film without him.
But Ferrara believes Maraval cut his own version of the film long before they reached out to him to deliver a new edit of the film. “He had a different idea of what the film should be,” he said, speaking to THR in Rome. “I had to make a censored cut for home, which is business as usual. But when IFC told me they weren’t going to release my version theatrically, that’s where the conversation ended.”
Ferrara has had a long relationship with both IFC and Wild Bunch, and this is the first time he has been denied director’s cut. “I’ve had final cut for thirty years,” he said. “I wouldn’t make a film unless I had final cut.”
When further pushed about Ferrara’s contractual right to final cut, Maraval said, “There are contracts. He has a lawyer. The film is one year old and has been released all over the world. You have your answer.” Wild Bunch claimed that the cut version was overwhelmingly preferred by distributors, but refused to comment on which versions were shown where. Ferrara is also reportedly pursuing a lawsuit against Wild Bunch for unapproved releases of the film in countries including Italy, Japan and the U.K.
The U.S. release is currently slated for multiple theaters across the country as well as on demand. Theatrically, IFC Films has not shied away from NC-17 content in the past. IFC Center even welcomed teenagers to view Blue is the Warmest Color last year, claiming it was an educational film. Showtime is currently planning to broadcast the edited film at a later date.
In the midst of the controversy surrounding the U.S. release, Strauss-Kahn is still pursuing a defamation suit in France against the film, according to Ferrara. “It’s the same thing. It’s a threat upon my right of self-expression,” said Ferrara. “This is what this is all about. Whether my work is being prevented from being shown in IFC cinemas that have always distributed my films uncut, or when an international sales agent arbitrarily and unlawfully changes my film, I will defend it in the court, in the street, wherever, whenever.”
IFC has not yet responded to THR‘s request for comment.
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Jamie Lee Curtis
Monday Night Football