I have worked several times with Mr. Polanski in Switzerland, where he owns a house in Gstaad. He travels back and forth from France a dozen times a year. If Mr. Polanski is such a physical danger and moral affront to civilized society that he must be locked up, even at the age of 76, why was he not picked up earlier, when he was 66, or 56 — or even 46? It would not have been hard to grab him at his home: his name is on the doorbell.
To answer this question the Los Angeles County district attorney, Stephen L. Cooley, has issued a “timeline” purporting to show the numerous efforts made by his office to have Mr. Polanski arrested. In fact it reveals precisely the opposite: how half-heartedly the case has been pursued since 1978, when Mr. Polanski fled the United States. On only five occasions — right at the outset, when he flew to London; in 1986, when it was rumored he might visit Canada; in 1988, when it was suggested he might be headed to Brazil, or elsewhere in Europe; in 2005, when he went to Thailand; and in 2007, when he visited Israel — do overseas authorities seem to have been contacted by the district attorney with specific information about his presence. This is hardly a red-hot manhunt.
Mr. Cooley’s office maintains that Mr. Polanski’s visit to the Zurich Film Festival over the weekend was different. It offered a unique opportunity to seize him, the office says, because officials knew for the first time precisely where he would be, and when. But Mr. Polanski was always heading off to film festivals and award ceremonies when I worked with him. To take only one example, his appearance at the Turin Film Festival last November had been advertised across the Internet since the February before. In other words, the district attorney had nine months’ notice of where he would be and when.
So it seems fair to deduce that the capture of Mr. Polanski — who has never been accused of similar offenses before 1977 or since — was an understandably low priority for the California criminal justice system, a system so short of money, that a court ordered it to release 40,000 convicts early because of prison overcrowding.
I suspect that this peculiar standoff — of sporadic, bureaucratic twitchings to remind the world that Mr. Polanski was still a fugitive, but no serious attempts at arrest — would have continued had it not been for Marina Zenovich’s 2008 documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.”