Roman Polanski has cancelled his visit to the Locarno Film Festival following opposition from some local politicians and media.

The director of Chinatown and The Pianist, who was due to receive a special award and give a masterclass at the festival, issued the following statement:

”Dear Friends, I am sorry to inform you that having considered the extent to which my planned appearance at the Locarno Festival provokes tensions and controversies among those opposed to my visit, even as I respect their opinions, it is with a heavy heart that I must cancel my visit.

“I am deeply saddened to disappoint you. Roman Polanski”

The festival called the move a “setback” and lamented the “unacceptable interference” from those who vocally criticised Polanski’s attendance at the Swiss festival.

The 80 year-old Polish auteur and Oscar winner - who lives between Paris and Swiss town Gstaad - was previously arrested and held under house arrest in Switzerland in 2009 while facing extradition to the US on charges of Unlawful Sexual Intercourse with a minor, a case that has sparked controversy in the film community and beyond.

Festival director Carlo Chatrian said Polanski’s cancellation marked the “darkest day” of his tenure.

“Today I am sad because the participants of the Festival del film Locarno will be deprived of meeting an extraordinary artist, who embraced our proposal of giving a great Cinema masterclas,” said Chatrian.

“I am sad because the audience of the Piazza Grande won’t be able to salute a Master of Cinema. I am sad because the idea of the festival as a meeting and debating place today receives a big blow.

“I have the greatest respect for freedom of expression for everyone and I have decided to listen to every criticism with the right attention.

“I feel that this time some positions have crossed boundaries, and through verbal violence and manipulation of reality, they have become an unacceptable attack to personal dignity.

“I understand and respect the decision of Roman Polanski. I sincerely hope that this missed opportunity for growth won’t sound like a victory for those who want to bridle the festival, but becomes a platform to relaunch it as a space for hospitality and freedom.”

One festival source Screen spoke to described the criticism of Polanski’s visit as “marginal but loud” and partly motivated by “local political points-scoring”.