WATERVILLE — After residents objected to the screening of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1972 film “Last Tango in Paris” at the Maine International Film Festival, the directors of the organization that puts on the festival disavowed the screening and pledged to donate proceeds from the film to an organization that worked against any legitimation of sexual assault, which the film shows.

They found one, but it is not their first choice.

The first choice of Executive Director Mike Perreault and Assistant Director Jessica Shoudy was the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, but the coalition said the organization could not accept the donation.

Contacted by phone Thursday, Perreault confirmed that the $200 made from ticket pre-sales and donation jars at the screening had been donated to an organization that wished to remain anonymous.

Former Waterville Mayor Karen Heck speaks with a woman about the sexual assault shown in the 1970s film “The Last Tango in Paris” before its showing recently at the Waterville Opera House during the Maine International Film Festival. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Perreault and Shoudy’s disavowal of the “Last Tango” screening came on the heels of former Waterville Mayor Karen Heck’s vocal crusade to bring attention to the real life sexual assault of actress Maria Schneider that is shown in the film.

“The film depicts a workplace assault,” Heck said.

In an interview in 2013, Bertolucci admitted to conspiring with Schneider’s co-star, Marlon Brando, to add another graphic element to the film’s “butter rape” scene without the consent of Schneider, who was just 19 at the time.

It’s the assault and not the film itself that Heck and other protesters said they had a problem with.

In conjunction with the rise of the #MeToo movement, Heck felt insulted by the screening.

“It’s a direct slap in the face to women who have been assaulted or are currently dealing with assault,” Heck said.

Perreault and Shoudy’s statement came just hours before the screening. Heck and a dozen protesters had passed out informational leaflets about their objection to the film and sexual assault to moviegoers.

Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider appear in a scene in the 1972 film “Last Tango in Paris.” Photo courtesy of Maine International Film Festival

“At the Maine Film Center, we are proud to present challenging, provocative, and world-class programming throughout the year, and we recognize our responsibility to present these works in their proper context as we fulfill the tenets of our mission: to educate, to entertain, and to build community,” Perreault and Shoudy said in the statement. “We are aware that our industry is particularly vulnerable to instances of oppression and assault, sometimes even on a systemic level, as we have seen with the unraveling of certain Hollywood institutions.

“We all have a responsibility to keep each other safe and healthy. … As directors of the Maine Film Center, we disagreed strongly with the inclusion of this film in the MIFF lineup and do not believe, given the context, that the film or its director are aligned with the values we hold true. We are proud to present additional programming during the festival that interrogates issues of consent.”

Though Perreault and Shoudy run the organization that puts on the festival, the decision to feature the film was made solely by Ken Eisen, who is the Maine Film Center’s director of programming for MIFF.

Eisen said he featured the film because of its recently released digital restoration, and it also paired well with another film screening during the festival, “What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael.”

Eisen has continued to stand by his decision to screen the film and has encouraged Heck and others to express their opinions.

“I spoke with Karen, and I knew she was going to protest, and I told her she should,” Eisen said. “She should let her opinion be known, and I’m happy to support the discussion around this movie.”

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