Sean Penn said he’s happy to be a “propagandist” for Ukraine’s war effort and called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “creepy little bully” in Berlin on Saturday after the world premiere of his gonzo documentary Superpower, a gripping one , bold under-fire portrait of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“This is not an unbiased film because this is not an ambiguous war,” he said, calling the war “extremely personal.” “I’m very happy to be considered a propagandist. I was happy to make an unbiased film because that’s the real story we found.”
Penn praised the Ukrainian war leader’s bravery while lashing out like his Russian counterpart when asked if the filmmakers wanted to hear from Putin, who he called a “war criminal”. “We knew we wouldn’t allow our film to be a platform for transparent deception,” he said. “I think it would have been better if we talked against a wall.”
“Superpower,” co-directed by Penn with Aaron Kaufman and produced by Vice, received a standing ovation in Berlin on Friday night after premiering out of competition as a Berlinale Special Gala.
Running just under two hours, the film follows the Hollywood star as he travels around Ukraine in the months leading up to the Russian invasion and then conducts a series of sit-down interviews with Zelensky once the war begins. During their talks, the wartime president reveals his frustration at the lack of support in the form of highly effective weapons he has received from the Biden administration.
In a Q&A after the screening, Penn echoed Zelenskyy’s concerns. “It’s not so much about what happens if Ukraine loses, because they won’t, but … if Russia wins, we’re all screwed. Just fucked to death,” Penn told the crowd. “As an American, I can say that we have to accept a certain amount of shame for not having taken up arms sooner.”
‘Superpower’ was one of the liveliest titles presented in Berlin this week, with Friday’s premiere coming a day after Penn’s surprise appearance at the opening ceremony, where Zelenskyy appeared via satellite to greet and greet festival-goers encourage “not to be silent” while Ukrainians continue to fight for freedom.
“A logical question arises: on which side should culture and art stand?” asked Zelenskyj. “Can art be outside of politics? Should cinema be outside of politics? It’s an eternal question, but today it’s extreme [pertinent].”
Although not conceived as a war story, but following Zelenskyy’s journey from being an actor playing the President of Ukraine in the satirical TV series Servant of the People to becoming the country’s leader in real life, Superpower quickly evolved from what Penn as “a project of whimsy” to a gripping profile of courage after the Russian invasion.