TIFF cancels premiere of Ulrich Seidl’s ‘Sparta’ due to allegations

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The film based on the true story of a Romanian pedophile will not make its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival has officially canceled the world premiere of Ulrich Seidl’s film “Sparta” after misconduct allegations emerged against the director.

Just hours before the scheduled screening of “Sparta”, TIFF pulled the feature. German news outlet Der Spiegel previously published child exploitation allegations against Seidl and the “Sparta” production on September 2.

A statement on the official TIFF festival page now reads: “This film has been removed from the 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” centers on Ewald (Georg Friedrich), an Austrian judo teacher in Romania who is a non-faulty pedophile. The film is a sequel to Seidl’s 2002 drama “Rimini,” which centers on Ewald’s brother. According to Seidl, the film is based on a true story.

The Der Spiegel report alleged that Seidl was unavailable on topics of pedophilia in “Sparta” and endangered child actors ages 9 to 16 on set. The actors were “faced with alcoholism, nudity and violence during production without adequate preparation or support”.

Der Spiegel’s exposé was published following a six-month investigation into the production of “Sparta” in Germany, Austria and Romania. Dozens of crew members and cast members were interviewed for the report. Satu Mare police had been informed in July 2019 that “various acts of violence” were inflicted on children during a film shoot. The investigation concluded in February 2022, with testimony from six minors stating that they were not harassed on set.

However, the Organized Crime and Terrorism Investigation Directorate (DIICOT) and the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection (DGASPC) of Satu Mare County have since opened investigations following the Der Spiegel article.

Allegations surrounding the ‘Sparta’ set include a 10-year-old boy who was allegedly told to consume alcohol while two men fondled him, leading to the child star throwing up and crying during production. A crew member claimed director Seidl cast the unnamed 10-year-old knowing he was the son of an abusive alcoholic father.

Another actor said he was filmed in the shower with lead star Friedrich naked and shaving his genitals.

Director Seidl denied any sexual context, pornographic or pedophile scenes in the film. A statement from Seidl’s attorney denied that any child was “filmed naked or in any sexualized situation, pose or context” for the feature film.

Seidl released a statement on its website that Der Spiegel “has made serious accusations against me, my working method and my feature film ‘Sparta'” with “incorrect descriptions, rumors and events ‘that have been’ taken out of context”. Seidl claimed that the charges show a “distorted picture which in no way corresponds to the facts”.

“Journalists, without worrying about taking the film itself into account, vilify my working method and attribute to me intentions that could not be further from the truth. I cannot allow this to go unanswered,” Seidl wrote. “Were the parents afraid that the film would contain sex scenes involving pedophilia? This is not the case. No child has ever been filmed naked or in a sexual situation, pose or context. Such scenes were never my intention and none were ever filmed. During filming, we never crossed the line of ethical and moral boundaries.

Seidl concluded, “In the summer of 2019, a few days after filming was completed, I visited all the children and their parents at home to thank them for their participation in the film. None of them expressed any complaint, discomfort or criticism. I hope SPARTA, when the movie hits theaters, dispels the objections that have only been raised by outsiders in this article.

While “Sparta” has since been removed from TIFF’s lineup, the film is still set to screen at the 70th San Sebastián International Film Festival in main competition.

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival kicked off Sept. 8 with the opening night premiere of “The Swimmers,” as well as the debut of “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.” Upcoming lineup highlights also include Steven Spielberg’s “Women Talking,” “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” and “The Fabelmans.”

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