Toronto Film Festival Pulls German Drama ‘Sparta’ on Day of World Premiere After Accusations of Child Exploitation on Set

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TIFF has withdrawn the German and Austrian film “Sparta” from the festival ahead of its planned premiere on Friday after the film’s director Ulrich Seidl was accused of child exploitation in connection to the film.

The festival apologized “for any inconvenience” and said ticket holders would receive an email with more information.

Seidl, an Austrian filmmaker, was accused in a story from last week in Der Spiegel that children on the set of his film were exposed to violence and nudity. “Sparta,” which has yet to screen publicly, follows the story of a pedophile that teaches judo to young boys in an abandoned school building.

TIFF said the article “raised concerns that official guidelines established to protect children and keep their guardians informed when making films were not followed.”

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The original TIFF listing for the film says that the participation of the young boys and non-professional actors in the film was consented to by their parents and that the themes were “meticulously monitored.”

“Sparta had been scheduled to premiere in TIFF’s Contemporary World Cinema section, but given these allegations, we will no longer present the film,” the festival said. “We consider Mr. Seidl to be an important contemporary filmmaker and we look forward to further clarity being brought to the issues of the film’s production raised by Der Spiegel.”

But the Der Spiegel article claims that the many actors in the film were not made aware of the themes of the film ahead of time and were “confronted with alcoholism, violence and nudity without sufficient preparation and adequate support.”

A rep for Seidl did not respond to a request for comment. Lawyers for Seidl who spoke to Der Spiegel said that all the parents and underage amateurs in the project were informed that the film is about an adult man “who feels attracted to boys and takes on a kind of fatherly role.”

“If the parents had had any concerns about the filming, or had the children … felt uncomfortable, they likely would not have, over such a long time period … remained involved,” the statement says.

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However, Der Spiegel says the lawyers’ statement refers to a period of time between winter 2018 and summer 2019, but Der Spiegel’s investigation involves the end of the shooting period on the film from summer 2019.

Seidl’s other films include “Dog Days” (2001), “Import Export” (2007) and “Paradise: Love” (2012). His movie “Rimini” from earlier this year is the first part of the story that was then split into two with “Sparta.”