What was the inspiration for Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired?
I was in Los Angeles in February of 2003 when an article appeared in the Los Angeles Times that talked about if Polanski were to be nominated for The Pianist for Best Director, would he be able to come back or not? It was an article talking about the case, and why he fled the country. I read the article and thought, oh this sounds really interesting. My initial thought was to maybe try to get to Polanski, but that didn't pan out. So I just waited. Then the girl from the case went on the Larry King show with her lawyer and the lawyer said the day Roman Polanski fled was a sad day for the American judicial system. And that comment just didn't make sense to me. I didn't understand why the lawyer for the opposing side would say something like that. So that was really the comment that made me think, I want to investigate.
I never set out to make an apology for him. He got himself into the position he was in. I wanted to make a film about what happened after that night, and to explain once and for all why he fled.
The film's focus seems larger than just Polanski-more about exploring a particular moment in time. Was that intentional?
I never set out to make a biopic. I really wanted to focus on the case. But in order to focus on an event in someone's life, you have to, in my view, reveal what got them to that point. This was a very ambitious project. It was very difficult. It took a long time. And for a while in the beginning, it was almost two films. There was Roman Polanski's biography and then the case. And the real art came in merging the two. And that was very difficult.
There's a great deal of offbeat humor in the film.
Well, I wanted to capture something that's very difficult to capture, which is an Eastern European sense of humor and irony; something that's very Polanski. It wasn't until the end that we were really able to play with that. And it was very liberating because it basically allowed us to then say, oh, wow, we can have some fun here. It takes a lot of sweat to get there. But when you do finally get there, it's magical.
Some people have suggested that you went too easy on Polanksi. How do you respond to that?
Well, I didn't really think it was my place to judge. I firmly believe that a film can't help but be an extension of a filmmaker's personality. If Michael Moore were to make this film, it would be a very different film. This is the film that I chose to make. This is the film that interested me. This is the film that no one wanted to talk to me about, and no one wanted to fund. But this is what intrigued me. It was always there - the question of how hard to be on Polanski. I never set out to make an apology for him. He got himself into the position he was in. I wanted to make a film about what happened after that night, and to explain once and for all why he fled.
I felt it was my job to explain how people think they know the story, but they don't. That doesn't excuse Polanski in any way, but it shows what he went through.
It seems as if throughout the course of the film our feelings shift back and forth towards Polanksi as we see him at different stages in his life.
Well, that's a huge compliment because one does go back and forth in how one feels about Polanski with regards to this case. And that's very satisfying to me as a filmmaker. One of the things I learned that surprised me was that at a certain point in Polanski's life he had a lot of hope. This was when he made Rosemary's Baby, when he was married to Sharon Tate. As one character says, "he was on top of the world." And then to imagine his pregnant wife being murdered - I wanted to try to show some of that hope before that horrific event. I wanted to show Sharon Tate alive, I wanted to show them together. I wanted to show things that people didn't normally show; things that resonated for me.
In making this film, I discovered that this was a tragedy for everyone involved. It was a tragedy for the girl, Samantha Geimer, and her family. It was tragedy for Polanski, because he fled. It was a tragedy for the DA in the case and Polanski's lawyer because they felt that they failed somehow. I felt it was my job to explain how people think they know the story, but they don't. That doesn't excuse Polanski in any way, but it shows what he went through. I think the best viewer for this film is someone who can't stand Roman Polanski and is disgusted by what happened. But if they allow themselves to watch the film, they usually come away from it feeling differently. If not about the crime, then at least about the aftermath. It's quite surprising.
2008 Documentary Films Series