In early March, director Abel Ferrara lashed out against distributor IFC Films for its plans to release a director-unapproved version of “Welcome to New York,” his lightly fictionalized portrait of Dominique Strauss-Kahn with Gerard Depardieu in the title role. Now Ferrara has issued further statements through a representative, along with his original remarks, and sent a cease and desist letter to the distributor, with IFC Films responding with a statement of its own.
As Indiewire reported, IFC’s deal with Wild Bunch for the film included an R-rated version of the movie, which allowed the company to license “Welcome to New York” to Showtime. After IFC requested the cut from Ferrara and he declined, Wild Bunch provided its own cut, which led to the director’s protestations.
“I will defend the right of free speech ’til the end,” he said in a statement at the time, “and I ask all who believe as I do not to support the show of this film on their networks, or their theaters, or wherever.”
With the R-rated cut of “Welcome to New York” scheduled to open next Friday, Ferrara has again taken action by filing a cease and desist letter with IFC Films and reissuing the same fiery statement he circulated before through a publicist. This time, however, the release includes additional details about the changes in the two versions of the film — which Ferrara did not provide earlier when asked, insisting that he was unfamiliar with the R-rated cut.
The differences between the versions appear to be significant. According to the release and other reports, with a full 17 minutes removed from the original version, the R-rated cut of “Welcome to New York” now moves the infamous rape scene involving DSK and a hotel maid to later in the movie — instead positioning it as a flashback while the maid speaks to police investigators.
“The version being released in the U.S. may lead views [sic] to think that maybe she imagined it,” Ferrara added in his latest statement. “It does not respect the woman who was raped at all and the fact that my name is on this film is a crime.”
While Ferrara could benefit from hiring a publicist with better proofreading abilities, his remarks continue to dance around the central reason for this conundrum — that Wild Bunch’s contract with IFC stipulated an R-rated version. By not figuring out his own strategy to deliver that cut, Ferrara effectively gave Wild Bunch the ability to recut his work.
One could argue that Wild Bunch head Vincent Maraval — who previously called Ferrara “a pathetic character who lost his mind in his drug years” — took advantage of the scenario by substantially changing the work beyond the necessary parameters, or that distributors themselves could have insisted on a shorter version that remained truer to the original cut.
Until this point, IFC has remained silent on the matter. But according to the company in its own statement released on Friday, its efforts to provide the director’s cut to New York audiences were unsuccessful. As Indiewire previously reported, the company offered New York’s Anthology Film Archives the opportunity to screen the director’s cut. “It is our understanding that the theater was in touch with Abel Ferrara, after which they declined to screen it,” IFC said.
The company insisted that it would have collaborated with Ferrara himself if he had taken advantage of the original opportunity to do so.
“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,” IFC said. “We’d have welcomed the opportunity to work more closely with him on the film, if he’d been willing.”
The dramatic changes to “Welcome to New York” may not detract from some of the more outrageous aspects of the movie, which portrays DSK as a wild-eyed sex addict who engages in a seemingly endless parade of orgies before inadvertently orchestrating his own downfall. Similarly, they do not endanger the delicate chemistry between Depardieu and Jacqueline Bisset, as the character’s furious wife. In short, while the new cut of “Welcome to New York” may in fact — in Ferrara’s words — “ethically neuter” the particulars of his vision, they do not curtail its overall indictment of DSK’s monstrous tendencies — an outcome that, according to Ferrara, has led DSK to file a discrimination suit against the filmmaker.
While his unruly declarations could use more precision — his press release includes a distracting, poorly edited statement from Ferrara’s “official biographer” Brad Stevens — Ferrara may be right to set the record straight. However, the Wild Bunch cut of “Welcome to New York” is hardly new material: The R-rated cut has already been released in several territories around the world, including the U.K., where the DVD includes both versions of the movie. Anyone equipped with an all-region DVD player and eager to see Ferrara’s vision as he intended it can find it with the click of a button.