#7 in a series...
Marina Zenovich took Sundance by storm one year ago with her fresh and cogent investigation of the decades-old Roman Polanski underage sex case. HBO picked up the film very early in the festival (for a rumored seven figures), the Weinstein Company picked up international rights for a reported $600,000 and THINKFilm later signed on to do a theatrical release after the film had aired once on the pay cable channel. It was something THINK had only done once before - with Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern's THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT - to little success. This time, the release of ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED would come in the midst of THINKFilm's unraveling. Some argued that HBO did the film no favors by disallowing traditional theatrical engagements in favor of an out-of-the-way Oscar qualifying run, particularly for such a well-received film. Months later, the film was perhaps the most surprising exclusion from the Academy's Documentary Feature shortlist.
But by the end of the year, the film was still making headlines, as Polanski sought to use new evidence uncovered in the film to get his case thrown out. Just yesterday, after this conversation was completed, Polanski's lawyers filed a new motion to move the entire case out of the Los Angeles Superior Court System and over to the California Judicial Council for review. Polanski and his legal team allege judicial bias and misconduct.
And the debate spurred by the film is likely to continue - the film's DVD is due later this month, with two hours of extra bonus features.
Here, Marina talks about her magical Sundance experience, having a ringside seat for the THINKFilm implosion, why HBO was the right choice and what it took to get her reluctant interview subjects to talk about the case on camera for the first time.
ATWT: I've been asking a lot of folks from last year's Sundance class what they were feeling at this time last year, so let me ask you the same question. A little less than two weeks out from Sundance, what were you feeling and what was happening with your film? Were you finished?
Marina Zenovich: I remember last year quite fondly. Lots of late night Chipotle dinners while color correcting, locking picture and sound mixing in New York and Los Angeles. It was pretty nuts.
The day before leaving for Sundance I showed the film to Polanski's agent who had asked to see it. It was a perfect dress rehearsal for what was to come.
I'm curious about your sales strategy. There's been a lot of talk recently about whether filmmakers should screen their film for select buyers prior to a festival or whether they should wait to show the film until their world premiere. What did you do and did you have that discussion?
We had the discussion and decided not to do it. Once we got to Park City it was amazing to see the whole sales team kick into high gear. You hear and read about it for years but to actually be in on it was pretty enlightening and intoxicating, actually.
The best advice I got was from my friend Arianna who said, "Just try to manage your expectations." Having made a film about the struggles of indie filmmakers at Sundance and Slamdance in 1996 and 1997 (INDEPENDENT'S DAY) I knew all the stories -- good and bad -- but I had never experienced it myself.
Neil Labute sums it up best in my film -- "You get into Sundance but are you in the competition? You're in the competition but did you win anything? You won something but did you get distribution? You get distribution but did you make any money?" The goal posts keep moving. It's endless. Thankfully you forget about all that when you remember the audience gasping at a great moment in your film. That's what its all for.
ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED was one of those titles that just seems to take the festival by storm and it seemed like pretty quickly you were bought by HBO. What was that like and how did you decide that HBO was the right home for the film?
I had the perfect Sundance. For me it was everything I hoped it could be. All of us who made the film were together, my family was there. The response was amazing. Polanski called me to congratulate me. Then we sold it.
HBO and Weinstein and BBC just made sense. You never know how people are going to respond -- especially with a film that is so divisive. Looking back the people who responded the most -- Sheila Nevins-- Harvey Weinstein -- Nick Fraser -- they are all risk takers. They believed in the film.
THINKFilm came in later as a theatrical distributor and they released the film in theatres after HBO had aired it. This was all happening at a pretty low point for THINK, in the midst of lots of rumors about their finances. What did all of that look like from your perspective?
Having the film premiere on HBO before having a theatrical run was an experiment. I think it had happened once before. We were always going to try to qualify the film -- just as everyone does. THINK released the film as planned all along. We had something like a 24-city release and it all went according to plan so although I knew about THINK's problems they were getting my film out there which was good. I was doing press. People were seeing the film but never underestimate the power of television and the power of HBO! This release pattern was a huge lesson in that power. I went to an event where I presented an award so people saw me onstage. After the show literally 50 people came up to me to tell me they'd seen my film on HBO. If my film was having a theatrical release people would say "I really want to see your film" or "I can't wait to see your film" whereas people were saying to me, "I saw your film. I saw your film twice. I Tivo'd your film." It was important to me that this story got out there and I felt that it did.
The film is really skillfully put together and it's interesting that - in addition to Polanski - you have these two lawyers as your onscreen protagonists because the film is built like a great closing argument. How much of the story with the judge in the case was familiar to you before you started on the film and how much did you learn as you were working on it?
I learned most of it as I was making the film. I had read various accounts in books but when you are being told the story firsthand its different. Its like a puzzle being put together. I interviewed the prosecutor, Roger Gunson, first and Doug Dalton, Polanski's lawyer, last. In the middle of those two interviews I learned a lot and had a lot of questions for them and many others who worked in the Santa Monica Courthouse alongside Judge Rittenband.
These are also folks who have not really talked about the case before. How did you get them to open up to you and your cameras?
I had to talk them into it. It took months and months of phone calls and meetings. With Roger Gunson, we had a mutual friend -- (former LA Film Festival Director) Rich Raddon. I think Roger had always wanted to tell the story but hadn't found the right outlet. He trusted me because Rich and I were good friends. It was difficult to get Doug Dalton (Polanski's lawyer) to talk to me but one day he finally called me after I'd tried to reach him for months. I saved the message on my machine for ages because you could tell he didn't really want to call me but he did it. Each step was pulling teeth with him. He had become so jaded by what happened that he never thought anyone would be interested in hearing the other side of the story. I think they both ended up trusting me to tell the story of the case the way it really happened. What's interesting is that these people become a part of your life. I still have a relationship with both of them.
In the last month, we've heard reports that Polanski's attorneys filed a request to dismiss, saying that an interview that you conducted shows evidence of judicial wrongdoing. If they were successful in this request, how would you feel about that outcome? And what's it like to have your film entered into evidence?
The film seems to have healed things for everyone involved -- Sam (Geimer), her mother, the lawyers and Polanski. It is rewarding to me as a filmmaker that the work means something. If this case can be put to rest once and for all because of my film I would be very happy for these people to move on with their lives.