When I interviewed Abel Ferrara in December 2013, he was working on two movies, one about Pier Paulo Pasolini, and another about disgraced former IMF chief Dominic Strauss-Kahn. Unfortunately for the latter film, Welcome to New York, starring Gerard Depardieu, Ferrara has been wrapped up in a feud with his US distributor, IFC Films, over final edit. IFC wanted an R-rated cut “so that it could match the version to be released on Showtime during its pay TV window.” IFC says Ferrara was contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated cut, Ferrara says his contract gives him final cut.
As Ferrara, ever the diplomat put it, “F— them and f— IFC and the Center. Any filmmaker that’s worth anything should go and burn that theater down. They don’t give a sh*t about movies or the people that make them.”
And now, with IFC planning to move forward with a March 27th theatrical and VOD release of the R-rated version of Welcome to New York, Ferrara has sent a cease-and-desist letter.
The letter claims that the edited version violates his contractual right of final cut and goes way beyond R-rated cuts in order to change the “political and moral content” of the film, at great risk to Ferrara’s reputation. He says he intends to commence legal action if IFC Films goes ahead with its planned release next week.
“As a filmmaker and a human being, I detest the destruction of my film,” said Ferrara in a new statement. “Behind all these entities are individuals, in this case Arianna Bocco, Jonathan Sehring and Vincent Maraval, who feel they can deny my contractual right of final cut, which is simply my freedom of expression.”
“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,” he continued. “I will defend the right of free speech till 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 theaters, or wherever.” [TheHollywoodReporter]
Here’s a spoiler-included description of the cuts (skip the blockquote if you don’t want to read spoilers).
Back in September, Wild Bunch head Vincent Maraval told THR that the cuts were “very minor” and were only to “help the film’s flow.” In actuality, the IFC version of the film is cut down a full 17 minutes from its original 125-minute length to 108 minutes.
The edited version of the film shown in Europe cut an entire subplot scene, removed overt political dialogue and shaved down a hotel orgy scene with multiple jump cuts. Most notably, it moved the hotel rape scene to a flashback, bringing the maid’s credibility open to interpretation.
Part of this, obviously, is that it sounds like Ferrara and IFC Films just have different ideas about what the film should be, the kind of feud that’s been around as long as studios. The other, unstated aspect of it is that it shows how much power the MPAA has to determine what people see. The distribution system currently in place is such that IFC doesn’t think they can make money on a movie without an MPAA-approved cut, so they end up having to put out a version no one – not the director, studio, or audience – really wants. This despite the fact that the MPAA is an unelected body that seems to play by their own esoteric rules of propriety. Kids are more or less watching porno and snuff films by the time they hit preschool nowadays, you have to wonder how much longer the world needs a shady non-governmental org policing obscure art films.