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Sean Penn Ukraine doc to premiere at Berlin film fest

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Sean Penn (L) with Ukrainian President Zelensky. The US actor was in Ukraine when Russia invaded./AFP
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Jan 24, 2023 - 03:04 AM

BERLIN, GERMANY — US actor and director Sean Penn will premiere a documentary he filmed in Kyiv featuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at next month’s Berlin film festival, organisers said when they unveiled the full programme on Monday.

The Berlinale, as the February 16-26 event is known, will shine a spotlight on the Russian invasion of Ukraine as it passes its first anniversary.

Penn’s “Superpower” is billed as “the chronicle of a film project that reality forced to change into something less controllable but more meaningful”.

It will be the most prominent among several Ukraine-themed entries at the 73rd annual festival.

Berlinale co-director Carlo Chatrian told reporters the film was shot under “very difficult circumstances”.

Penn was in Kyiv to shoot a documentary in late February 2022 when the Russian onslaught began.

The two-time Oscar winner was photographed attending a government news conference in Kyiv, and could be seen meeting Zelensky in a video posted to the Ukrainian president’s Instagram account.

The 62-year-old actor shot the documentary for Vice Studios with directing partner Aaron Kaufman.

‘Solidarity’ with Ukrainians, Iranians 

Penn has previously attracted controversy as a result of his forays into current affairs, especially after he and Mexican-American actress Kate del Castillo interviewed Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman while the Mexican drug lord was on the run.

In 2018, Penn was reported to be in Turkey making an as-yet-unreleased documentary about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.

“Superpower” will screen in the Berlinale Special section of the festival, out of competition.

Chatrian said the event, Europe’s first major cinema showcase of the year, would spotlight several documentaries and feature films from Ukrainian directors, in addition to works from dissident Iranian filmmakers, in a sign of “solidarity”.

It will also provide free exhibition space to Ukrainian industry representatives at the festival’s sprawling European Film Market, and highlight co-production possibilities with Ukraine’s embattled directors, the Berlinale said.

A handful of Russian directors living in exile will also be in attendance but the festival has barred delegations and reporters with direct ties to the Russian or Iranian governments.

Chatrian unveiled the 18 films vying for the festival’s prestigious Golden and Silver Bear prizes — an “eclectic” slate of feature films and documentaries from around the world.

US actors Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody star in the British production “Manodrome” about a young man about to become a father for the first time.

Chatrian said it offered a fresh look at “masculinity nowadays in contemporary society”.

Strong female showing 

Vicky Krieps, star of “The Phantom Thread” and “Corsage”, plays in “Ingeborg Bachmann — Journey Into the Desert”, trailblazing female filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta’s take on the life of the beloved Austrian author.

Japanese manga artist Makoto Shinkai will enter the competition with animated feature “Suzume”, already a big box office hit in his home country.

And Korean-Canadian director Celine Song will join the race with her first feature “Past Lives”, a semi-autobiographical romance about a woman torn between two lovers.

France’s Philippe Garrel directs his children Louis and Esther in “The Plough”, a family drama “with a big heart”, Chatrian said.

And rising German star Franz Rogowski plays a member of the French Foreign Legion in “Disco Boy” by Giacomo Abbruzzese.

While Cannes and Venice have long faced criticism for a lack of female representation, Berlin traditionally has a stronger track record.

One-third of the directors invited to the Berlinale’s main competition this year are women.

The 11-day festival will open with Rebecca Miller’s “She Came to Me”, a romantic comedy featuring “Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage and Oscar winners Marisa Tomei and Anne Hathaway.

US actor Kristen Stewart will lead the festival jury while Hollywood director Steven Spielberg is due to pick up an Honorary Golden Bear prize for lifetime achievement.

Last year, Spanish director Carla Simon won the Golden Bear for best film for “Alcarras”, a Catalan drama about peach farmers.

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