Abel Ferrara’s Welcome To New York premiered in Cannes last May as it simultaneously went out on VOD in France in an unconventional release strategy for Wild Bunch. It was downloaded 100K times in the first week and similarly went on to some success in other markets, but the drama is only now getting its Stateside release via IFC Films, amid brewing controversy between the distributor and Ferrara.
Inspired by the summer 2011 sex scandal surrounding former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the film stars Gérard Depardieu and Jacqueline Bisset. It is a graphic look at sex addiction and the scandal that surfaced after DSK’s alleged sexual assault of a maid at the Sofitel in NY.
Changes made to secure an R rating in the U.S. have angered the filmmaker, who has evidently sent a cease-and-desist letter to IFC, although I hear IFC has not yet seen such a letter. Attempts to contact Ferrara’s attorney were unsuccessful. The tempest – or what Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval tells me is making a “mountain out of nothing” – first began in the late spring of 2014 when the Hollywood Reporter posted statements by Ferrara regarding the edit.
IFC hasn’t spoken on the record about the issue until now, providing a statement to Deadline that says the filmmaker has “refused to engage with us past slinging mud and insults” (see full statement below). They are planning a day-and-date VOD/theatrical release on March 27.
IFC acquired Welcome To New York from Wild Bunch and part of the contractual agreement was that an R-rated version would be cut for the U.S. I hear Wild Bunch attempted to have the director do his own pass, but he did not oblige and they ultimately furnished IFC with an R-rated version. IFC also offered to cover the cost of Ferrara doing his own cut but it’s understood that he did not respond. Since September, “there has been name calling,” says a person close to the situation.
The film will not screen at the IFC Center in NY out of security concerns, “after (Ferrara’s) “threats of violence,” per the IFC statement. The indie distributor says an offer was made to screen the director’s cut at the Anthology Film Archives theater, but that was a no-go.
“It is our understanding that the theater was in touch with Abel Ferrara, after which they declined to screen it,” IFC says.
The helmer of Bad Lieutenant and more recently the well-received 4:44: Last Day On Earth, as well as 2014 Venice selection Pasolini hatched the idea for Welcome To New York in 2011, when Ferrara was making 4:44 with Wild Bunch. At the time, Maraval told me it was suggested that the DSK sex scandal would be a good fit for Ferrara given the filmmaker’s penchant for themes of addiction.
Maraval tells me today of the current dust-up, Ferrara is “putting on a show like always and the press is following along. Fine.”
The version of the film I saw at the Cannes premiere last year was not for the prudish or faint of heart. Depardieu called the subject matter reminiscent of Shakespearian tragedy. He said he was shocked when he saw it because some of the sex was very violent, but he tried not to pin the characters to “right or wrong.” For those who might consider some of the footage borderline porn, Depardieu admonished, “It’s not porno at all. To be porno, you have to see the big d***.” There was indeed a scene in which Depardieu’s private parts are exposed during a strip search inside a stark prison. Whether that made it into the R-rated cut remains to be seen.
Here’s IFC’s statement:
“At IFC Films, we place high priority on our relationships with filmmakers and want to address the controversy and drama around the film Welcome To New York, which has now expanded beyond the scandalous story depicted in the movie. We want to set the record straight about our role as the U.S. distributor of the film.
Our contract with Wild Bunch (the film’s sales agent) is for an R-rated version. We offered Mr. Ferrara an opportunity to edit his own R-rated version of the film at our expense, but he did not respond. After his threats of violence towards the IFC Center last September, we decided we could not risk showing the film there, but we offered to screen his original directors cut at the Anthology Film Archives theater in New York. It is our understanding that the theater was in touch with Abel Ferrara, after which they declined to screen it.
On March 27th, we will be releasing on VOD and in select theaters the version of Welcome To New York that has been delivered to us by Wild Bunch, in accordance with our contractual obligation. Any edits made to the original version of Welcome To New York were made by Wild Bunch, since Mr. Ferrara did not respond to our offer.
It’s a core mission of IFC Films to support and champion our filmmakers and we regret that Mr. Ferrara has refused to engage with us past slinging mud and insults. We’d have welcomed the opportunity to work more closely with him on the film, if he’d been willing.”