Austrian director Ulrich Seidl has cancelled his visit to San Sebastian for the Sept. 18 world premiere of “Sparta,” amid allegations of impropriety and child exploitation made against the director.
The world premiere will still go ahead at San Sebastian with the film playing in main competition contending for San Sebastian’s Gold Shell.
Seidl’s decision comes after the Toronto Film Festival pulled “Sparta” and on Sept. 14, FilmFest Hamburg announced that it would no longer be giving Seidl its Douglas Sirk Award, though it would be screening “Sparta.”
“I am very grateful to [San Sebastian director] José Luis Rebordinos for supporting “Sparta” from the beginning, despite the media pressure and the sudden and unexpected polemics it has created. It means a lot to me,” Seidl said via a written statement transmitted on Saturday by Spanish SVOD platform Filmin, which distributes the film in Spain.
“My initial impulse was to attend San Sebastian and not leave alone the film on which I and my team have worked for so many years,” Seidl continued. “However,” he went on, “I’ve realized that my presence at the festival could overshadow the reception of film. Now is the moment for the film to speak for itself.”
San Sebastian issued its own statement on Saturday after news of Seidl’s cancellation confirming that “Sparta” would still screen on Sunday at the festival. A photocall and press conference have been cancelled, however.
Toronto’s withdrawal of “Sparta” came after an investigative report published by German news magazine Der Spiegel on Sept. 2. This alleged that Seidl did not reveal the film’s focus on pedophilia to its young actors nor their guardians, the actors being between the ages of 9 and 16 and not from professional backgrounds.
The young actors were also exposed to alcoholism, nudity and violence during the production without sufficient preparation nor support, Der Spiegel claimed.
Seidl has denied the claims. “My films are not the product of my manipulating my actors, misrepresenting the film to them, much less abusing them,” he wrote in statement posted on his website.
San Sebastian has stood firm behind Seidl confirming in a statement after Toronto pulled the film that it “does not have the ability to judge how a film has been shot and whether a crime has been committed in the course of the filming. If anyone has any evidence of a crime, they should report it to a judge.”
The statement concluded: “Only a court order would lead us to suspend a scheduled screening.”