France appeals to U.S. for director's release

The arrest of Roman Polanski has spiraled into an international incident.

France has appealed to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for the 76-year-old director’s immediate release from a Swiss jail as he faces extradition charges from Switzerland to the U.S. Polanski is a French citizen.

Polanski’s unexpected legal battle imperils the February release plan for his latest movie, “The Ghost,” which has wrapped shooting but remains unfinished.

Backed by cries of outrage from politicians and film festival organizers in Switzerland, France, Germany and Poland, as well as high-profile supporters in Hollywood, Polanski was in a “fighting mood and determined to defend himself,” his French lawyer, Herve Temime, said on Monday.

“We have begun by requesting his release,” he said in a statement. “After that, his defense team will demonstrate the illegal nature of the extradition request he is facing. There is no legal reason based on the facts or the most basic principles of justice to keep Roman Polanski in prison for even a single day.”

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, however, has considered Polanski a fugitive since 1978, when he fled the country after pleading guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl the year before.

The U.S. now has up to 60 days to formalize an extradition request following Polanski’s arrest Saturday at the Zurich airport as he headed to the Zurich Film Festival to accept a lifetime achievement honor.

Polanski can appeal to the Swiss Federal Penal Court of Justice, which can release the helmer on bail as long as he doesn’t leave the country, though such an arrangement is unlikely.

As of Monday, a spokeswoman for the Swiss court said it had not yet received any request on the Polanski case. Switzerland has been bombarded by other requests for his release, however.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Polish counterpart, Radoslaw Sikorski, said they had written to Clinton calling for Polanski’s release.

A Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Kouchner had also made an appeal on Polanski’s behalf to his Swiss counterpart, Micheline Calmy-Rey.

Swiss economy minister Doris Leuthard said her country had no choice but to enforce the international arrest warrant against Polanski.

“The Americans strongly believe that the arrest of Mr. Polanski is necessary — that’s for them to decide,” she told reporters in Paris.

According to the L.A. County D.A., Polanski came close to being arrested in summer 2007, when the D.A.’s office was informed that Polanski would appear in Israel and notified authorities there to apprehend him; he’d already left the country by the time the required documents were filed.

Polanski, who was born in France and raised in Poland, has lived in Paris ever since he fled the U.S.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand was quick to criticize the U.S. for its tactics in pursuing the decades-old case.

“Seeing (Polanski) alone, imprisoned while he was heading to an event that was due to offer him praise and recognition is awful,” he said. “He was trapped. In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America, and that has just shown its face.”

Debra Winger, who serves as president of the Zurich fest’s jury, on Monday demanded Polanski’s release and criticized Swiss authorities for their “philistine collusion” in arresting Polanski as he entered the country.

“This fledgling festival has been unfairly exploited, and whenever this happens the whole art world suffers,” Winger said in a statement on Monday, standing together with the other four international jury members who wore red badges reading “Free Polanski” as they announced plans to continue the fest.

Polanski was in post-production on thriller “The Ghost,” which is being prepped for a February release.

Summit is handling overseas rights, while ICM topper Jeff Berg is working closely with producers to secure a domestic distributor.

Normally, distribution deals on Polanski’s pics aren’t brokered until the finished film can be screened.

With Polanski now in custody, it’s not known when the pic can be completed. Polanski had been in Switzerland during much of July and August editing “The Ghost” but had yet to complete scoring, ADR or sound mixing, sources close to the film said.

Meanwhile, Polanski supporters were quick to make public demonstrations of their outrage on behalf of the Oscar-winning helmer.

Organizers of the Cannes film fest compiled a petition, whose signatures include fest prexy Gilles Jacob, fest director Thierry Fremaux, helmer Wong Kar Wai and thesp Monica Bellucci, to lobby for Polanski.

In the U.S., Harvey Weinstein is taking up the effort in Hollywood to petition against the extradition, after being approached by Fremaux.

“We’re calling on every filmmaker we can to help fix this terrible situation,” Weinstein said.

The Polish Filmmakers Assn. have asked U.S. authorities to review the case, while in Germany, the Berlin Film Festival demanded Polanski be freed.”The Berlinale protests the arbitrary treatment of one of the world’s most outstanding film directors,” the fest said in a statement. “We declare our deep respect for Roman Polanski and we demand his immediate release.”

The German Film Academy also condemned Polanski’s detention.

Academy presidents Senta Berger and Guenter Rohrbach said in a joint statement: “The German Film Academy finds it revolting that Roman Polanski has been arrested for an act committed more than 30 years ago.”

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