VENICE (AFP) - Controversial director Roman Polanski on Thursday (Aug 29) said he was the victim of harassment and "absurd" accusations by women, in defiant comments a day ahead of the Venice premiere of his new movie.
Polanski's historical thriller about the persecution of the French Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus, An Officer And A Spy, has been selected to compete for the festival's top prize, in a move that has sparked outrage and inflamed a row about female inclusion.
Critics of Venice festival have reacted with fury to Polanski's inclusion in the era of #MeToo, particularly with only two of the 21 films in the running for the main prize directed by women.
The 86-year-old, who was convicted for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old in 1978, is not due to appear at the festival.
But he released an interview with French writer Pascal Bruckner on Thursday in which he dismisses new abuse claims against him.
He said these were "absurd stories by women I have never seen before in my life who accuse me of things which supposedly happened more than half a century ago".
In the interview, contained in a press pack released to accompany his film, the director was asked by Bruckner if "as a Jew" he will "survive the present-day neofeminist McCarthyism".
The director draws a parallel with his film, which traces the history of the late 19th century Dreyfus Affair - the wrongful conviction of a Jewish officer against a backdrop of virulent anti-Semitism.
"In the story, I sometimes find moments I have experienced myself, I can see the same determination to deny the facts and condemn me for things I have not done. Most of the people who harass me do not know me and know nothing about the case," Polanski said.
Polanski fled to France in 1978 and has been a fugitive ever since from the US justice system, despite repeated attempts to have him extradited.
He is currently suing the Academy of Motion Pictures for stripping him of his membership.
Venice festival director Alberto Barbera defended his decision to include Polanski, calling him "one of the last masters still active in European cinema".
But the controversy has triggered heated debate that has threatened to overshadow the glitzy celebration of cinema.
Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel, president of the judging panel for this year's Golden Lion top award, told the festival's opening news conference that the inclusion of Polanski had made her "uncomfortable" and that she would not attend a celebration of his movie.
But she later released a statement stressing that she did not object to the selection of the film.
"I have no prejudice against the film and naturally I will watch it in the same way as all other films in competition," she said.
The festival is also facing criticism for presenting a new film in a sidebar event from director Nate Parker, who was embroiled in a rape trial while still at university.