Mere hours before the slated “Sparta” screening, TIFF withdrew the feature. German news outlet Der Spiegel previously published allegations of child exploitation against Seidl and the “Sparta” production on September 2.
A statement on the official TIFF festival page now reads: “This film has been withdrawn from festival. We apologize for any inconvenience. Ticket holders will receive an email from TIFF Customer Relations with more information.”
IndieWire has reached out to the Toronto International Film Festival for comment.
“Sparta” focuses on Ewald (Georg Friedrich), an Austrian judo teacher in Romania who is a non-offending pedophile. The film is a sequel to Seidl’s 2002 drama “Rimini,” focused on Ewald’s brother. According to Seidl, the film is based on a true story.
The Der Spiegel report alleged that Seidl was not forthcoming in the themes of pedophilia in “Sparta” and endangered child actors aged 9 through 16 on set. The actors were “confronted with alcoholism, nudity and violence during the production without adequate preparation or support.”
The Der Spiegel exposé was published following a six-month investigation into the production of “Sparta” across Germany, Austria, and Romania. Dozens of crew members and select actors were interviewed for the report. The Satu Mare police had received a tip in July 2019 that “various acts of violence” were being inflicted on children during a film shoot. The investigation concluded in February 2022, with testimonies from six minors stating they did not experience harassment on set.
However, the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) and the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection (DGASPC) of Satu Mare County have since started investigations following the Der Spiegel article.
Allegations for the “Sparta” set include a 10-year-old boy allegedly being told to consume alcohol while two men caressed him, leading the child star to vomit and cry during production. One crew member claimed director Seidl cast the unnamed 10-year-old knowing he was the son of an abusive alcoholic father.
Another actor stated he was filmed in the shower with lead star Friedrich naked and shaving his genitals.
Director Seidl has denied any sexual context, pornographic, or pedophilic scenes in the film. A statement from Seidl’s attorney denied that any child was “filmed naked or in a sexualized situation, pose, or context” for the feature.
Seidl issued a statement on his website that Der Spiegel “made serious accusations against me, my method of working, and my feature film ‘Sparta'” with “incorrect descriptions, rumors, and events” that were “taken out of context.” Seidl claimed the accusations show a “distorted picture that in no way corresponds to the facts.”
“The journalists, without bothering to take into account the film itself, vilify my method of working and ascribe to me intentions that could not be further from the truth. I can not allow this to go unanswered,” Seidl wrote. “Were the parents led to fear that the film might contain sex scenes involving pedophilia? It doesn’t. No child was ever filmed naked or in a sexual situation, pose or context. Such scenes were never my intention and none were ever filmed. During shooting we never crossed the line of ethical and moral boundaries.”
Seidl concluded, “In the summer of 2019, a few days after we wrapped shooting, I visited all the children and their parents at home to thank them for their participation in the film. None of them voiced any complaint, discomfort or criticism. I hope that SPARTA, when the film has opened in theaters, will dispel the objections that have only been leveled by outsiders in this article.”
While “Sparta” has since been removed from the TIFF lineup, the film is still expected to screen at the 70th San Sebastián International Film Festival in main competition.
The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival kicked off September 8 with the opening night premiere of “The Swimmers,” as well as the debut of “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.” Upcoming programming highlights also include “Women Talking,” “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” and Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans.”