BERLIN (Reuters) - Roman Polanski may be under house arrest in a Swiss chalet, but the Polish-French director is set to dominate this year's Berlin film festival where his latest movie "The Ghost Writer" will be unveiled.
Interest in the 76-year-old's film, one of 20 competition entries vying for awards at the February 11-21 event, has inevitably soared since his sensational arrest in Switzerland in September.
Polanski, the Oscar-winning maker of classics like "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby," is now fighting extradition to the United States to face sentencing over a 1977 case of unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. Festival director Dieter Kosslick, hoping for a classic edition of the annual cinema showcase to mark its 60th year, has confirmed that the Oscar winner will not attend the red carpet world premiere Friday, as is the norm at such events.
Neither is he likely to appear in a video message from the confines of his holiday home in Gstaad.
Yet despite Polanski's absence, The Ghost Writer is expected to attract more attention than any of the hundreds of movies being screened in and out of competition in Berlin this year.
Polanski reportedly put the finishing touches to the thriller based on a Robert Harris novel while in prison, and the fictional former British prime minister played by Pierce Brosnan is widely understood to be loosely based on Tony Blair.
Ewan McGregor is the ghost writer of the title brought in to pen the ex-premier's memoirs, but when he stumbles across a global conspiracy involving his employer he must race to uncover the truth before it is too late.
Polanski's notoriety and the political nature of the film are likely to boost the profile of Berlin, which has come in for a critical drubbing in recent years as it struggles to compete with other major festivals like Cannes and Toronto.
Another triumph for Kosslick is Martin Scorsese's Cold War era "Shutter Island," which is not in competition but which will enjoy all the exposure of the red carpet, press conferences and media interviews.
Also based on a novel, this time by Dennis Lehane, the movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a U.S. marshal who is called to investigate the strange disappearance of a multiple murderer from a maximum security psychiatric clinic.
Other U.S. films include "Howl," about a 1957 trial of a publisher who printed Allen Ginsberg's poem of the same name for which he was accused of distributing "obscene literature."
Ben Stiller appears in "Greenberg," and British director Michael Winterbottom brings "The Killer Inside Me," a movie starring Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson which drew criticism at the Sundance film festival for its graphic violence.
Another major star set to draw crowds to the festival is Bollywood heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan, who presents "My Name Is Khan" about an Indian Muslim and his experiences in the United States just after the 9/11 attacks.
Khan said he was "angry and humiliated" when he was detained and questioned for two hours at a U.S. airport in August, apparently because of his name, common in Muslim societies.
Another picture examining Muslims' experiences of living in the West is "Shahada," which follows three young people living in Berlin who struggle to live within their system of beliefs.
A restored version of Fritz Lang's original 1927 silent cult classic "Metropolis" will be screened during the festival following the discovery in 2008 of a negative containing several scenes believed to have been lost for good.
The seven-member jury deciding the awards at the closing ceremony on February 20 is headed by German director Werner Herzog and includes Hollywood actress Renee Zellweger.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White and Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Steve Addison