Controversial director Roman Polanski has pulled out of a planned trip to a Swiss film festival following a raft of protests over the decision to hand him a lifetime achievement award.

The Chinatown moviemaker was due to pick up the top prize at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland this week (beg11Aug14), but the announcement triggered criticism because of Polanski's past.

The 80-year-old Oscar winner has been a wanted man in the U.S. since fleeing to France in the late 1970s, a day before he was due to be sentenced after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor.

He was arrested in Switzerland in 2009 and threatened with extradition back to America, but was eventually released and allowed to return to his home in France.

Organisers of the event called the storm over Polanski's award "unacceptable interference of some in the artistic liberty of the festival" but the star has now decided not to return to Switzerland.

He says in a 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."

Polanski had also been scheduled to present his new movie Venus In Fur, which stars his wife Emmanuelle Seigner, at the festival and host a film-making masterclass.