Solidarity with Ukraine was a recurring theme at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival, but it took center stage Friday night at the world premiere of Sean Penn’s latest film Superpower, a documentary portrait of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his leadership in the war.
Before the curtain rose at Berlin’s Verti Music Hall, where the premiere was taking place, Penn offered a personal introduction from the stage, thanking the film festival for hosting the premiere and “great respect for the Ukrainian people who fight for all of us.
And when the credits rolled nearly two hours later, the Berlin audience rose to a standing ovation for Penn and his staff.
Penn said he originally planned Superpower, which he co-directed with Aaron Kaufman, as a unique story about a comic book actor who becomes president”, but the project changed dramatically after Russia entered Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Excerpts from the film were taken before and after the attacks began and provide a stunning account of the victims of the war in Ukraine. The film follows Penn as he travels to the front lines of the conflict to meet soldiers and see first-hand the battles that are being fought.
Penn revealed at the screening that he had returned from Ukraine days earlier, his sixth trip to the country. He says the real-world premiere of Superpower is what got under way for Zelensky and his team earlier this week.
In a previous show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people and a show of opposition to Russia, the Berliner Festspiele invited the President of Ukraine to open this year’s Berlinale with a live video message. The audience stood when Zelensky was introduced and consistently applauded his speech.
Culture takes sides when it opposes evil, says Zelenskyy, and takes sides when it remains silent and actually aids evil.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, Zelenskyy has tirelessly used media events to raise awareness of his country’s struggles and drum up political and military support. As well as addressing Congress, the British Parliament and the German Bundestag, he has made numerous video appearances at major film festivals, including last year’s Cannes and Venice, and even sent a video message to the Grammys.