The Polish director was the subject of a special tribute at this year’s festival and was en route to Zurich to take part in a masterclass with young filmmakers when he was taken into custody.

His arrest, which took place late on Saturday night, was linked to the charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor brought against him more than 30 years ago in Los Angeles. According to US news reports, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office learned of his Zurich trip and presented an arrest warrant to Swiss authorities. He is now awaiting extradition to the US.

None of the young filmmakers and guests at Zurich’s Corso Cinema for the Sunday morning masterclass were aware of the arrest until festival officials belatedly informed them what had happened.

“The events of last night threw me because I met Polanski first in 1965 and he has transcended all the borders - not just national borders - with his art. Also, he has transcended his own life in the way he has been able to make these great films,” British film historian and critic Peter Cowie, who had been due to moderate the masterclass - told a stunned audience.

In the place of the masterclass, the festival screened a copy of acclaimed documentary Roman Polanski - Wanted and Desired, which had shown at last year’s festival and deals in detail with the events surrounding the sex crime allegations levelled at Polanski.

Festival officials weren’t able to cast much light on the circumstances of his arrest. However, they made the observation that he had clearly been convinced that it was safe for him to travel to Zurich without fear of extradition. At the time of his arrest by Swiss authorities, Polanski was allowed to make two telephone calls. One was to the festival to apologise for his non-appearance.

Speculation was that Polanski had been arrested under the terms of an arrest warrant which had been renewed secretly four days ago.

The Zurich Film Festival issued a statement that read: “We are unable to judge the legal background surrounding the arrest of Roman Polanski. We are shocked and unable to comprehend this situation, which has affected us deeply. This evening’s scheduled homage to Roman Polanski’s cinematographic oeuvre was intended to express our admiration for one of the most exceptional filmmakers of our time.

“The ‘A Tribute To…’ lifetime achievement award for his work as a director will be conferred at the soonest possible opportunity. This incident will not affect the rest of the Zurich Film Festival’s programme, which will continue as announced.”

It remains to be seen what impact the arrest might have on release plans for his new film, The Ghost, which is post-production. Summit International declined to comment.

The 5th Zurich Film Festival runs from 24 September to 4th October.