Venice Film Festival Faces Backlash Over Problematic Directors

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The 80th Venice Film Festival, which runs from August 30 to September 9, 2023, has sparked controversy by including new films from Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, and Luc Besson in its official lineup. All three directors have been accused of sexual misconduct or abuse in the past, raising questions about how the media should cover their work and whether they deserve a platform at a prestigious event.

Polanski, Allen, and Besson: A Brief History of Allegations

Roman Polanski, the 88-year-old Oscar-winning director of The Pianist and Chinatown, is a fugitive from the US justice system since 1978, when he fled the country after pleading guilty to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl, Samantha Geimer. He has also been accused of sexually assaulting several other women, including actress Charlotte Lewis and former model Renate Langer. His latest film, The Palace, is a historical drama set in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.

Woody Allen, the 85-year-old four-time Oscar winner of Annie Hall and Midnight in Paris, has been accused of molesting his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow when she was seven years old in 1992. He has denied the allegations and was never charged with a crime, but the controversy resurfaced in 2014 when Dylan wrote an open letter detailing her account of the abuse. Allen’s new film, Coup de Chance, is a romantic comedy starring Timothée Chalamet and Elle Fanning.

Luc Besson, the 62-year-old French director of The Fifth Element and Lucy, has been accused of rape or sexual assault by at least nine women, including actress Sand Van Roy and former model Carole Bouquet. He has denied any wrongdoing and was cleared of rape charges by a French court in 2019. His new film, DogMan, is a thriller based on a true story of a dog groomer who became involved in a violent crime.

Venice Festival Director Defends His Choices

Alberto Barbera, the director of the Venice Film Festival, has defended his decision to include the films of Polanski, Allen, and Besson in the competition, arguing that he is only judging the artistic merit of their work and not their personal lives. He has also compared Polanski to Italian painter Caravaggio, who was a convicted murderer but is widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of all time.

Venice Film Festival Faces Backlash

“I can’t be the judge of the man. I’m a festival director. I judge the quality of the films,” Barbera said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. He added that he believes that Polanski has “admitted his responsibility” and “asked to be forgiven” for his crimes, and that Allen and Besson have been “absolved” by legal scrutiny.

Barbera’s stance has been criticized by many activists and commentators who argue that he is ignoring the voices of the victims and sending a message that talent excuses abuse. They also point out that by giving prominent slots to problematic directors, he is taking away opportunities from other filmmakers who have not been accused of such offenses.

How Should the Media Cover Venice’s Problematic Men?

The dilemma faced by journalists covering the Venice Film Festival is whether to focus on the artistic aspects of the films or to highlight the controversies surrounding their directors. Some reporters may choose to boycott or ignore the films altogether, while others may opt to review them with a critical eye or to contextualize them within the broader social and cultural issues.

Eric Randolph, arts & lifestyle editor for Agence France-Presse (AFP), said he struggled with how to write his headline for the festival announcement. He decided to go with the stars rather than the scandal, but he still mentioned Polanski and Allen in his third paragraph. He said he did not know whether that was the right thing to do.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that these are very serious allegations and that there are people who are very hurt by them,” Randolph said. “But at the same time, I don’t want to give them more attention than they deserve.”

Randolph said he plans to cover all three films at Venice but will try to balance his reporting with other stories from the festival. He said he will also include some background information on the allegations against each director in his articles.

“I think it’s important to inform readers about what these directors have done or have been accused of doing,” Randolph said. “But I don’t think it’s my role to judge them or to tell people what they should think or feel about their films.”

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