The maverick film-maker Abel Ferrara is threatening to sue the US distributors of his controversial film about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, Welcome to New York, to halt the release of a version made without his involvement for the American market.
Ferrara has issued a cease and desist letter to IFC films claiming the new version violates his contractual right of final cut and radically alters the “political and moral content” of the film. French sales company Wild Bunch is also named in the notice.
Welcome to New York stars Gérard Depardieu as a potential candidate for the presidency of France who lives a life of debauchery and is arrested after being accused of raping a maid at his hotel. The story closely mirrors events at the Sofitel New York hotel in 2011 involving former International Monetary Fund chief Strauss-Kahn which made headlines around the world.
“As a film-maker and a human being, I detest the destruction of my film,” said Ferrara in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter. “Behind all these entities are individuals ... who feel they can deny my contractual right of final cut, which is simply my freedom of expression.”
He added: “Some people wear hoods and carry automatic weapons, others sit behind their desks, but the attack and attempted suppression of the rights of the individual are the same. I will defend the right of free speech ’til the end and I ask all who believe, as I do, that they not support the showing of this film, on their networks, in their theatres, or wherever.”
It is understood that the new version of Welcome to New York has been cut from 125 minutes to 108 minutes. Ferrara appears to be most upset about the recutting of a central rape scene which now appears in flashback, potentially leaving the credibility of its victim open to interpretation. “The version being released in the US may lead viewers to think that maybe she imagined it,” said the film-maker. “It does not respect the woman who was raped at all, and the fact that my name is on this film is a crime.”
In the events of 2011, charges of criminal sexual assault against Strauss-Kahn were dropped by US prosecutors.
Ferrara has been locked in a battle with Wild Bunch and IFC since last autumn, with Welcome to New York having debuted outside the official lineup during the Cannes film festival in May. Wild Bunch says the Bad Lieutenant director was contractually obliged to deliver a cut which would meet strict guidelines for films rated R by the US censor. When the film-maker failed to deliver, producers made their own edit.
“This version has existed for eight months, has been released all over the world by distributors to whom we gave the choice between two versions, and all unanimously preferred the shorter version not only for commercial reasons but because they found it much better,” Wild Bunch head Vincent Maraval told Indiewire earlier this month.
But Ferrara now suggests there was always a plan to make a new version without his permission and insists he was never aware he did not have final cut. Meanwhile IFC has not made any public comment on the spat.
Welcome to New York has received mostly positive reviews, but was released via video on demand in France to escape what Maraval hinted at the time was a national instinct towards self-censorship. Ferrara’s film is slated for a US release, albeit in its controversially edited form, on 27 March.