NYFF50: Roman Polanski Then & Now


Roman Polanski, 1st N.Y. Film Festival, 1963 © Jerry Schatzberg

Filmmaker Roman Polanski has been in the spotlight in recent days at the 65th Cannes Film Festival, but here he is pictured nearly 50 years ago at the very first New York Film Festival.

This photo is so striking because it was shot before the filmmaker was famous (and then infamous) in the 60s and 70s.

Director and photographer Jerry Schatzberg met Polanski on the night that Knife in the Water, the French/Polish director's first feature, premiered at the inaugural New York Film Festival in 1963.

"Needless to say, I thought it was a great film," Schatzberg noted in a recent recollection about this photograph. "Roman presented the film, and did a Q & A. He did not speak English too well, but was charming and very funny."

Back home in Poland, Polanski had finished art school and was facing a tough time getting his first feature film off the ground but the movie would eventually be embraced by film festivals, including the New York Film Festival founders: Cinema 16's Amos Vogel (who recently passed away) and future Film Society of Lincoln Center program director Richard Roud. Knife in the Water was showcased on the cover of Time Magazine ("Cinema: A Religion of Film," September 20, 1963)  ahead of the first NYFF and was later nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Polanski recently talked about his early days in film during a long interview for the new doc at the 65th Cannes Film Festival, Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir, directed by Laurent Bouzereau. Polanski was also at the Cannes fest with a restored version of his 1979 movie, Tess.

"At the time, I had a broken leg, and was on crutches, so I stayed behind while the cinema emptied out," filmmaker Jerry Shatzberg recalled about the experience of seeing the film at NYFF, "As I was coming down the escalator, I noticed Roman talking to someone, and I hobbled over to him, to express my feelings about his film. He was, again, charming and funny, and we seemed to get along very well."

The photo has become an iconic image of the young Polanski and the shoot ignited a friendship between the two directors. 

"I told him I would like to photograph him, and he immediately agreed to it," Schatzberg continued in his recollection of making the photograph, "We set up an appointment. He came to my studio. I wanted to give the appearance of New York, so I took him up to my apartment, where I went out on the roof, and had him stand inside behind glass doors that reflected a New York scene.  I know Roman liked the photographs and we did a number of other sittings through the years. We became friends, and have been friends ever since."

"I finally sent him a copy of the photograph about three years ago."

The 50th New York Film Festival will take place at Lincoln Center Septemer 28 - October 14, 2012. For more information on the festival, please visit FilmLinc.com.

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