ROME — Veteran American independent filmmaker Jon Jost has appealed to Venice Intl. Film Festival director Alberto Barbera to withdraw Portuguese entry “Agua e Sal” (Water and Salt) on the grounds that it exploits the child he had with his estranged partner, director Teresa Villaverde.
Jost, whose films include “All the Vermeers in New York” and “The Bed You Sleep In,” has been embroiled in a custody battle with Villaverde, who he claims abducted their daughter Clara nine months ago.
He says she illegally took the 4 year old to live in Portugal, denying him contact. The case is before a Portuguese appeals court.
Truth behind fiction
This bitter struggle is believed to be at the center of Villaverde’s latest feature, in which Clara Jost plays herself. The film was chosen for the competitive Cinema of the Present section at the 58th Venice fest, which runs Aug. 29-Sept. 8.
“Teresa Villaverde’s use of Clara, in light of her kidnapping, is an obscenely immoral act,” wrote Jost in a letter to Barbera. “That she should be rewarded for it with screenings in glamorous festivals would in effect be an act of complicity in kidnapping, exploitation of a child and be effectively a mode of cruelty. I beg you to voluntarily withdraw the invitation to the film for the sake of my child.”
Jost’s letter repeatedly underlines the potential psychological damage to his daughter of seeing herself act out traumatic family events, pointing to the negative findings of a recent court-ordered psychiatric evaluation of the child in light of her parents’ separation.
Should Barbera fail to respond to Jost’s letter, the Rome-based filmmaker says he will go to court to get an order blocking public showings of potentially harmful material.
‘I am not a censor’
“I cannot verify whether Jon Jost’s claims are true or not,” Barbera told Daily Variety. “As a festival director, I am not a censor, and my dealings are with the film’s producer, who assures me everything is in order.
“I do not believe that festival screenings of the film, which, obviously, the child will not be permitted to attend, can have harmful effects. However, I do wish to express the utmost compassion for this situation and hope it can be resolved soon, above all for the good of the child.”
Jost also has threatened to file criminal and civil charges for fraud and child abuse against Portuguese producer Paolo Branco and Italian co-producer Fabrizio Mosca if the film is shown. He claims that no legally valid contractual agreement was signed nor parental consent given for his daughter’s participation in the film.