French-Polish director Roman Polanski, wanted by the United States for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, has said he will not attend the Locarno Film Festival.
The 80-year-old director, who has a chalet in the Bernese resort of Gstaad, was set to be recognised with a special award and give a public master class at the annual festival, which runs until August 16.
He was also going to present his latest film, Venus in Fur, an adaptation of a 2010 play by David Ives.
However, some local politicians were outraged at the thought of Polanski – whose films include Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist and Carnage – being honoured at the festival, with the Ticino section of the Christian Democratic Party calling on delegates of the local parliament to boycott the official opening of the festival.
The party said in a statement that Polanski’s artistic output could not be viewed completely separately from his private life.
One Ticino Christian Democrat, Firenzo Dadò, described Polanski on Facebook as a “paedophile who drugged and raped a girl and is now being received with full honours”.
On Tuesday, Polanski wrote to the festival organisers, regretting he would not be attending. “I have noted that my planned appearance has led to controversy and tension among certain people, whose position I respect.”
Carlo Chatrian, the festival’s artistic director, who in July had proudly announced Polanski’s participation, said on Tuesday he was “deeply saddened” by the news and that certain people had “crossed the line” with “unacceptable personal attacks”.
“After several days of rain, the sun is once again shining in Locarno, but for me this is the darkest day since I became director [in November 2012],” he wrote.
“I am sad because those taking part in the festival have been deprived of meeting an extraordinary artist. … I am sad because the concept of the festival as a place of debate and gathering has been dealt a heavy blow.”
When Polanski attended the Zurich Film Festival in 2009 to receive a prize he was arrested. After posting $4.5 million (CHF5.5 million) bail, he was allowed to live at his chalet under house arrest, wearing an ankle monitor, for nine months after which he was freed.