Fugitive Polanski unveils documentary via Skype

AFP-JIJI

Oscar-winning film director Roman Polanski, a fugitive in the United States for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in the 1970s, unveiled a new documentary in New York on Thursday — via Skype.

The French-Polish director has not set foot in the United States since fleeing on the eve of his sentencing in 1978 but remains an icon for making some of the world’s most daring films.

Thursday’s event was to unveil an updated and re-released version of the documentary “Weekend of a Champion” — a profile of Polanski’s friend, British racing great Jackie Stewart. Filmed in 1972, at the peak of Stewart’s career, it has been updated with a new epilogue that reunites the filmmaker and subject to reflect upon their pasts.

Stewart attended the press event in person in Manhattan, but the 80-year-old Polanski appeared only on screen, through a Skype connection.

Polanski took several questions from journalists, none of whom asked about his fugitive status. Polanski spoke of his friendship of Stewart and said updating the documentary had been more work than he expected.

When he was 43, Polanski pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl after plying her with drugs and champagne in Hollywood in 1977. He was initially charged with six felony counts, including rape and sodomy, but the charges were later reduced under a plea deal made in part to spare the victim the ordeal of a trial.

Polanski served 42 days at a secure unit undergoing psychiatric evaluation but fled the United States on the eve of his sentencing in 1978 amid fears the trial judge planned to reverse a previously agreed plea deal.

In 2009, he was arrested again in Switzerland as the United States sought extradition. He was freed by the Swiss who said the U.S. Justice Department failed to provide records of a hearing in which Polanski claimed his case had been settled and sentence agreed. His victim, Samantha Geimer, now a mother of three, published her memoirs this summer and says she harbors no hate for him.

Polanski has made some of the most acclaimed films of the late 20th century, including “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown.” His second wife, Sharon Tate, was horrifically murdered by Charles Manson’s “family” in 1969. She was pregnant at the time.