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Sean Penn in Berlin: Volodymyr Zelensky Superpower

Sean Penn in Berlin: Volodymyr Zelensky Superpower

The actor and director presented Superpower, his docufilm about Volodymyr Zelensky and the war in Ukraine, at Berlinale 2023.

Between missiles and images of TV shows, the viewer quickly realizes he is in a double minefield. Two-time Oscar-winning actor, director, and producer Sean Penn brought to the Berlinale a very "physical" and personal contribution, Superpower, a docufilm about Volodymyr Zelensky and the war in Ukraine that broke out while he was in Kiev, Feb. 24, 2022.

The initial intention was to make a film about the president, chronicling his life from his beginnings in show business. But things changed suddenly, and in the work shot with Aaron Kaufman in addition to images of war and rubble, and interviews with key figures el Ukrainian world, there is much of the man Penn. We see him at the movies, where he takes Ukrainian soldiers to see Top Gun: Maverick, then video calls with actor Miles Teller and has him talk to real soldiers. Then there are exclusive interviews with Zelensky and key figures in Ukrainian politics. Aware that he is not a journalist, it must be said, he is keen to emphasize that he asked the questions that a "normal" person would ask. A perhaps somewhat naive but sincere contribution, his, in the defense of freedom. And always with electronic cigarette in hand.

How did he work on a docu that started out as a portrait of a man and ended up chronicling a war exclusively?

"From the original idea, everything changed, and even the large crew working on it had to adapt: it got smaller and smaller, until it got down to me and Aaron. That changed the whole look of the project, because our lives had changed in the meantime."

How did you decide to move, on the spot?

"By following our hunch. In a way, it's as if we sat down in a restaurant, the following week, to go over our experience: it would have been exactly what you see in the film. When we then returned to Kiev, months later, we moved differently. We pushed each other to give back the most honest version of what we actually saw. I'm trying to say that Supepower is the account I would give of what I saw to someone else."

The advantages of being Sean Penn?

"When I need to jump on a plane and go somewhere, I can do that. I don't have to ask permission from a major film company. And then being well-known I have access to a certain kind of situation, and that works like a double-edged sword: the assumption is that you are there as a guest of the state, not as a journalist or a documentary filmmaker. So you have to keep reiterating, "Look this is not about me…." But these two elements, the freedom I have to organize my work and what I have access to, are an important part of my activism. It's true for my humanitarian organization, CORE, and it's true for this film."

Was it difficult to walk the line between being in the film and not being the protagonist?

"It was easy, because unless you go into the frame with a broad knowledge of the subject matter, what you can do is move around asking questions. We knew we weren't trying to make a movie for the Amazon audience, we're two guys asking questions they don't know the answers to, asking the things anyone would ask."

Was there anything you revealed that you felt was not investigated enough by the media?

"I began to worry about our educational system in the United States. Because talking to children and making them understand our history of the 1960s or 1970s is difficult. When we were in Ukraine, they would tell you about a 1,000-year-old history, and they would use it to explain something that was happening today. Knowing their history, they knew which side they wanted to "break away" from, to evolve. They have been building that over the last 30 years, peaking in 2014."

The thing that surprised you the most?

"Kiev itself. I don't know what Ukraine was like before, I didn't know how different it was from Moldova or Belarus. You get there and it looks like New York, the place was beautiful and there was a lot going on. There was a lot of energy going on, the fashion is beautiful, it's full of artists and singers, and we were going to show all that, which I tried to put into the film. We didn't want to just show all those beautiful buildings that were being bombed. There was culture, something was happening, before the bombings."

The difference between what we see on a TV news program and the imams in your docu, what do you think it is?

"A long documentary, with individual interviews, has the breath to allow us to observe the personality of the Ukrainian people. I think it helps to create interest and empathy, as well as show dramatic elements, such as family separation and displacement. A viewer understands what it will take to put that country back together once it wins this war."

You had Zelensky speak live at the Berlinale….

"He said beautiful words, the English he speaks now is much better than it used to be. It is very important to speak to the audience more effectively, without translators. He is unstoppable. And so like everything in Ukraine, with every advancement of the Russians, Ukrainians feel stronger."

You met Putin many years ago, together with Jack Nicholson: do you remember?

"It was two weeks after the meeting with President Bush, he said he had looked into his eyes and realized that he was a man he could trust. I had a similar reaction, I said to myself, 'Wrong, wrong wrong!' Then I made a joke to him about the president, and he said, "This relationship is too important to joke about…" 'Okay,' I replied, 'goodbye.'"

Written by Michael Zippo

Michael Zippo, passionate Webmaster and Publisher, stands out for his versatility in online dissemination. Through his blog, he explores topics ranging from celebrity net worth to business dynamics, the economy, and developments in IT and programming. His professional presence on LinkedIn - - is a reflection of his dedication to the industry, while managing platforms such as EmergeSocial.NET and highlights his expertise in creating informative and timely content. Involved in significant projects such as, Michael offers a unique experience in the digital world, inviting the public to explore the many facets online with him.


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