Facing Extradition, Roman Polanski Will Skype Into Venice Film Festival Premiere

The director — wanted for a 1978 statutory rape conviction — won't attend the event in person thanks to an extradition treaty between Italy and the U.S.: "If he puts his toe one inch over the line, he'll be in jeopardy."
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy is heading to the Venice Film Festival and will screen in competition in early September. But there’s little chance the Rosemary’s Baby helmer will hit the red carpet in support.

That’s because the United States and Italy signed an extradition treaty in 1983 and Polanski, who was convicted of statutory rape in 1978, would be arrested and likely sent back to the U.S. if he steps foot on Italian soil. “If he puts his toe one inch over the line, he’ll be in jeopardy,” says attorney Joshua Dratel, an expert in extradition matters.

In 1978, when the arrest warrant was issued for Polanski, he moved to France, where he holds citizenship and is protected by the country’s limited extradition agreement with the U.S.

The Venice fest is a case of déjà vu for Polanski. In 2009, Swiss officials arrested him at the behest of U.S. authorities while Polanski was in the country to attend the Zurich Film Festival, where he was poised to receive a lifetime achievement award. That move sparked an outcry from a who’s-who of film world luminaries (Harvey Weinstein spearheaded a petition signed by everyone from Alfonso Cuaron to Natalie Portman to Tilda Swinton that read: “We demand the immediate release of Roman” and expressed “dismay” that “an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary film-makers, is used by police to apprehend him.”

It is unlikely that any such petition would surface in the post-#MeToo era given that Polanski’s victim was 13 years old at the time of the rape. Venice organizers have already prepared for the physical absence of the director at the festival and are expecting Polanski to join its festivities via Skype. "Anyone who is wanted by the United States is risking his freedom by going anywhere in the world where they are not sure of a safe passage,” says Dratel.

A version of this story first appeared in the July 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.