By Silke Koltrowitz
ZURICH (Reuters) - "Better late than never" was how director Roman Polanski summed up his feelings on Tuesday as he received an award from the Zurich film festival two years after being arrested on his way to pick up the prize.
Polanski was intercepted at Zurich airport by Swiss police on September 26, 2009 and held in prison and later house arrest until Swiss authorities decided in 2010 not to extradite him to the United States due to technical faults in the U.S. request.
The Oscar-winning Polish-French film maker, who had holidayed in his chalet in luxury Swiss resort Gstaad for years before the arrest, is wanted in the United States for the alleged rape of a minor in 1977.
"What can I say?" said the visibly moved 78-year-old as he picked up his lifetime achievement award.
"Better late than never. It's a strange anniversary for me, two years, day for day.
"Certain parts of it I'd rather forget, but I'm happy to be here. It is a very moving moment for me so do not expect any speeches."
The director behind acclaimed movies including "Chinatown" and "The Pianist" thanked those who had supported him during "these difficult months".
"I would in particular like to thank the prison staff who tried to make my stay as bearable as possible, including the head of the prison of Zurich."
There was loud laughter in the audience, but Polanski interjected: "This is not a joke."
He continued: "I love coming to Switzerland, I have been coming for years, and I'm happy to be here."
POLANSKI'S NEW FILM CRITICAL HIT
At the time of the original U.S. court case, Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl but fled the United States on the eve of his 1978 sentencing as he feared an unfair trial.
The film maker, married to French actress and singer Emmanuelle Seigner, has since lived in France, avoiding travel to countries that might extradite him.
He did not show up at the Venice film festival earlier this month to present his new film "Carnage", partly written during his house arrest last year.
The movie, an adaptation of a play and starring Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster, was warmly received by critics in the Italian canal city, but surprisingly won no awards at the festival.
Polanski's arrest in Switzerland prompted an outcry amongst his admirers in political and cultural circles, mainly in France, with directors from Woody Allen to Martin Scorsese and Jean-Luc Godard expressing support for the artist.
The seventh Zurich festival features a line-up of 96 films, including ten world premieres.
Actor and director Sean Penn will receive this year's Golden Icon Award to honor his lifetime achievements on Wednesday.
(Editing by Mike Collett-White and Louise Ireland)