Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

Deservedly one of the highlights of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," directed by Marina Zenovich (who previously made the intriguing documentary "Independence Day"), is a sharp and engaging investigation into the "case of Polanski," the esteemed director who after pleading guilty in 1977 to having unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor left Los Angeles and went into exile of 30 years, never again to return to U.S.; he has been living and working in Paris.

A 2008 Sundance Film Festival Award winner for Documentary Film Editing, "Roman Polanski" will bow internationally in as an Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival and will be released internationally by The Weinstein Company. HBO Documentary Films will air the film on June 9, and ThinkFilm will present it theatrically on July 11.

On one level, the docu asks, what happens when one of the worlds most famous filmmakers becomes trapped inside one of his own movies Polanski has directed two dozen films, half of which brilliant, from his Polish debut, "Knife in the Water," through Rosemary's Baby," "Chinatown," all the way to the Oscar-winning "The Pianist," in 2002. He's also known for his horror films, some of which have become cult items with different sorts of meanings after the assassination of his wife.

Objectively, Polanskis entire life was marked by tragedy: His mother was killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. His love for his wife, actress Sharon Tate, ended when she was murdered by followers of Charles Manson in 1969; she was eight-months-pregnant at the time. Surviving these tragedies, Polanksi rebuilt his career in the 1970s, until he made a fateful mistake during a photo shoot with a 13-year-old girl. Subsequently convicted of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, Polanski pled guilty and served 42 days in jail.

All of these details are fascinating, but the essence of the docu is in its probe of Polanski's complex, strange, even perverse court case. "Roman Polanski" explores how the case affected the young girl and Polanski, while addressing larger lasting questions about the media, our culture's obsession with celebrity and the legal system. The docu reopens the still-controversial, relevant case, challenging many of the notions, myths, and stereotypes that have surrounded it, while exploring the socio-legal-political circumstances that led to his conviction, as well as the public's "blood-thirst" and the media circus that followed.

Though still admired as one of the worlds greatest directors, Polanski's reputation has been tarnished by his public conviction for having unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. Reopening this controversial case, Zenovich fashions a perceptive and intelligent exploration of what really happened, casting a very different light on Polanskis decisions and the workings of the legal system.

Revisiting all of the key players–the lawyers of both sides, the victim, and the media–and focusing on the conduct of the judge whose handling of the case was definitely unusual, as well as unearthing telling footage from the past and incorporating insightful interviews from the present, "Roman Polanski" develops a case for a clear miscarriage of justice. Far from being an apologia for Polanski, the film tries to bring comprehension and clarity to events long clouded by myths and presumptions. In particular, the docu sheds light on the unusual conduct of presiding Judge Laurence Rittenband whose zeal for celebrity cases was unprecedented.

There's never doubt that Polanski did have sex with a teenager named Samantha Gailey and that he gave her drugs and/or liquor prior to the act. Initially Polanski pleads innocent, but his lawyers agree to a plea bargain when the girl's panties are used as evidence.

Among the exclusive interviews are the candid, clear-eyed victim Samantha (Gailey) Geimer, now 45 years old, who publicly forgave Polanski in 1997; former Assistant District Attorney Roger Gunson; and Polanskis defense attorney, Douglas Dalton, who breaks his silence after 30 years to reveal the extraordinary backstage maneuvers that ultimately led Polanski to flee.

Other interviewees include Lawrence Silver, Samantha Geimers attorney; producer Andrew Braunsberg, a close Polanski friend; Philip Vannater of the LAPD (retired); Dave Wells and Jim Grodin, Assistant DAs (both retired); Richard Brenneman, reporter for the Santa Monica Evening Outlook; Hollywood gossip columnist Marilyn Beck; actress Mia Farrow; producer Hawk Koch; psychiatrist Dr. Ronald Markman; producer Daniel Melnick; and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. (See complete list at the end)

Though the main story takes place in the 1970s, "Roman Polanski" is still a poignant investigation into the very fabric of two major institutions: the legal system and the mass media, both American and international. It's a credit to Zenovich's intelligent approach that she doesn't sensationalize or moralize the issues. In the end, how you feel about a middle-age celeb director who sleeps with a minor still poses an important moral question but one that needs to be placed vis–vis the broader legal and political contexts.

Key Players:

Roman Polanski Douglas Dalton, Polanski's lawyer Roger Gunson, Assistant District Attorney Samantha (Gailey) Geimer, the victim Lawrence Silver, Attorney for Samantha Geimer Judge Laurence J. Rittenband (now deceased), Judge in the Case David Wells, Assistant District Attorney Jim Grodin, Assistant District Attorney Phillip Vannatter, Los Angeles Police Department Richard Brenneman, Reporter, Santa Monica Evening Outlook Claus Preute, Reporter, Bunte Magazine Andrew Braunsberg, Producer, Polanski's friend Gene Gutowski, Producer, Polanski's friend Daniel Melnick, Producer Hawk Koch, Producer Anthea Sylbert, Polanski's friend Mia Farrow, Actress Lorenzo Semple, Jr., Screenwriter Fred Sidewater, Dino De Laurentiis Productions Marilyn Beck, Hollywood Gossip Columnist Hans Mollinger, Polanski's Friend Pierre-Andre Boutang, Polanski's Friend Istvan Bajat, Photographer Arnaud D'Hauterives, Academie des Beaux-Arts Michael M. Crain, Former Public Defender Steve Barshop, Assistant District Attorney Dr. Ronald Markman, Psychiatrist Diane Tschekaloff, Rittenband's Clerk Elliot Rittenband, Judge's Nephew Marlene Roden, Rittenband's Girlfriend Madeline Bessmer, Rittenband's Girlfriend

End Note

Roman Polanski, 75, has lived in France for the past 30 years, where he has been highly honored and continues to be revered. His 2002 Best Director Oscar for The Pianist was awarded in absentia.

credits

A Weinstein Company, HBO Documentary Films and ThinkFilm presentation.

Directed by Marina Zenovich.

Produced by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Lila Yacoub and Marina Zenovich.

Executive producers: Steven Soderbergh and Randy Wooten.

Written by Joe Bini, P.G. Morgan and Marina Zenovich.

Camera: Tanja Koop.

Edior: Joe Bini.

Music composed and arranged by Mark Degli Antoni.

Running Time: 100 Minutes