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Sean Penn, Aaron Kaufman Paint Profound Portrait of Volodymyr Zelensky in Berlin Competition Premiere ‘Superpower’ (EXCLUSIVE) – Latest trending news



Sean Penn went to battle and a film broke out. That’s, in impact, the story behind the making of the documentary “Superpower,” a gripping cinematic portrait of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on the eve of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s army invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Co-directed by Penn and Aaron Kaufman, who helmed the 2021 documentary “Crusaders: Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses Converse Out,” “Superpower” bows Feb. 17, out of competitors, as a Berlinale Particular Gala on the Berlin Movie Competition. Fifth Season and Vice Studios are behind the movie, with Fifth Season promoting worldwide rights.

“Superpower” was not conceived as a battle story. Quite, Penn and Kaufman, in addition to producer Billy Smith, endeavored to chart the trajectory of Zelensky’s uncommon profession trajectory — from actor-comedian-producer taking part in a historical past trainer elected as Ukraine’s president within the satirical TV collection “Servant of the Folks,” to a rising political star elected because the real-life president of Ukraine in 2019. The intent was to relay a story about an everyman — in Zelensky’s case, a Ukrainian, Russian-speaking Jew born underneath Soviet rule within the late Nineteen Seventies — who finds himself on the helm of a fledgling democratic nation burning to embrace freedom. A Ukrainian president elected on an anti-corruption platform who, very quickly post-election, finds himself within the crosshairs of an American president’s impeachment.

“When one watches ‘Servant of the Folks,’ it so clearly has the luxurious in its fiction to permit [Zelensky] as an actor and as a author to essentially say what was already pulsing within the coronary heart of Ukrainians,” notes Penn. “And which might, by the best way, largely be relevant in lots of international locations, together with the U.S. You recognize, form of ‘Bulworth.’ Think about Martin Sheen working for president of america off ‘West Wing.’ Properly, you’re form of going, he’s not simply an actor–as a result of he means it.

“By the point he had determined to run a marketing campaign, individuals already had an concept of what he could possibly be and so they’d had an emotional response to the character he created,” continues Penn.  “And with all that youthful power [Ukrainians] had not seen earlier than in management.”

Provides Kaufman, “[This film] was a chance to see what this man was all about, to comply with a path and see what the reality is. And that was so refreshing to me. It was intoxicating.”

Plans had been made to shoot in Ukraine, however the pandemic struck and, for about two years, Penn and Zelensky communicated by way of Zoom and phone. When Kaufman and Penn, who seems on display screen all through the documentary, met Zelensky in individual on Feb. 23 of final 12 months, Zelensky was dressed, per Penn, “in a go well with, as can be a head of state on the presidential palace.”

That subsequent day, Feb. 24, Russian missiles got here raining down upon Ukraine, leveling cities and igniting the most important refugee disaster since World Warfare II. And “Superpower,” hatched as a personality research — “a undertaking of caprice,” says Penn — was now one thing solely totally different: a movie monitoring the emotional odyssey of a battle hero.

“Zelensky was two utterly totally different creatures from in the future to the following,” recollects Penn of that fateful historic second. “He was a spirit in ready.”

Since declaring its independence from the collapsed Soviet Union in Aug. 1991, Ukraine’s wrestle for sovereignty has been arduous fought, and Putin, who got here to energy in 1999, has served repeatedly as president or prime minister since that time. In February 2014, Russia annexed the Crimea area of Ukraine, and tensions boiled between the 2 nations, with Putin escalating the battle unprovoked in 2022, vowing to squash the democratic dream for Ukraine’s 44 million residents.

Zelensky, the political underdog, has remained undeterred.

“We at all times considered this [film] as a David and Goliath story in a few other ways,” says Kaufman. “It’s the large opponent and the small, scrappy upstart. However in case you take a look at David and Goliath, David was nimble, and he was ready to [fight] another way, a totally new various means that was new and totally different than that of Goliath. And I really feel like Zelensky is similar form of character.”

Penn provides, “David is tens of millions of Ukrainians. And Goliath is a whole lot of hundreds of Russians — and, , they’re not profitable this battle.”

For “Superpower,” Penn spent an preliminary two-and-half hours interviewing Zelensky outdoors the presidential palace, adopted by Zooms and telephone calls that proceed to today. CORE, the catastrophe reduction group Penn co-founded with Ann Lee within the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, has been on the bottom in Ukraine, Poland and Romania because the invasion, offering emergency reduction for over 200,000 people, together with refugee households and Ukrainians displaced inside their very own nation.

Of his involvement in Ukraine in that regard, Penn says that he’s most struck by the variety of “historically left-wing donors” to CORE who’ve requested level clean: “How can we assist get weapons there?”

Kevin Iwashina, senior VP, documentary, Fifth Season, calls “Superpower” “an natural extension of the combat for human rights to which Sean has been dedicated his complete profession.

“We wished nothing greater than to assist Sean and Aaron as humanitarians who’re dedicated to their artistry and might apply it to create significant and broadly accessible content material that can impression views and affect pondering,” Iwashina says.

Bolstering the movie’s sense of percolating urgency, “Superpower” options sit-downs with Ukrainian journalists and high-profile specialists comparable to retired lieutenant colonel Alexander Vindman, former director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council. Vindman, whose household emigrated to america from Soviet Ukraine in 1979, served a key function in testifying towards former U.S. president Donald Trump in 2019’s Trump impeachment hearings. The movie additionally highlights the common on a regular basis individuals of Ukraine, ladies and men turned in a single day — and with little to no coaching — into fight troopers.

“Zelensky instructed us that throughout the nation, there have been extra individuals asking to take up weapons than they’d weapons to offer,” says Kaufman.

Observes Penn, “These Ukrainians had been preventing with every little thing they’d — and shocked the world.”

“Superpower,” as a lot because it tracks the evolution of Zelensky from comic to world chief, is a clarion name to governments throughout the globe. With democracy at stake, this isn’t a disaster contained inside Ukraine. This can be a disaster that, if not handled, extends far past the borders of any nation — and can impression generations and nations to return.

To wit, Andriy Pyshnyi, Ukrainian banker and politician, points this stark assertion within the movie: “I feel that World Warfare III has already begun. And the entrance line is in Ukraine. Warfare in Ukraine is only a begin for the Russian Federation if it’s not stopped.”

So acute was Penn’s fiery ache to assist the Ukrainians and share their tales that no matter hazard he might or might not have confronted within the throes of Russia’s invasion — from the bombed-out buildings of Mariupol, Kyiv and Severodonetsk — fell a far second to that need.

I’ve by no means been good at arithmetic, however I knew statistically we had a fairly secure wager to get out of there,” says Penn. “After all, each time I put myself in sketchy locations or with sketchy individuals, you must have a second of processing the potential for the necessity for that obituary, what meaning to your children, and so forth and so forth. However there’s a brand new one thing that claims you. And on this case, from the second the invasion began, I used to be so consumed with this sense [about] this unified tradition, that folks with a variety of totally different opinions about a variety of various things had been capable of utterly align — and that’s in every single place in Ukraine in the present day. And it’s one thing that’s so refreshing. So, you’re fueled by that.

“As soon as the invasion began, greater than every other considered feeling, it was a form of heartbreak,” Penn continues. “I used to be interested by what, what world are my children going to, , end out the day with it. It didn’t appear localized.”

The emotional pull of making “Superpower” was so robust, says Kaufman, essentially the most troublesome problem was deciding when to interrupt.

“If Sean and I had our means, we’d nonetheless be taking pictures this film,” he says. “I don’t suppose we’d ever cease. I feel the toughest a part of this film was creating an arc the place we had an finish, the place we mentioned, that’s the top of the story at that second. We acquired actually invested. And I feel we acquired invested as a result of we knew it was proper, but additionally as a result of we drilled into an idealism that felt real. When you took it out of the context of america and also you had been not coping with the appropriate and the left — that entire paradigm — and also you had been any individual else’s tradition. And, , [Ukrainians] will not be good. There’s a ton of issues you could possibly have mentioned about pre-invasion Ukraine that will have been lifeless on. Nevertheless, we felt like all of them wished to do higher. They appeared to have this form of mixed trigger to be higher. And I feel that was enchanting to us.”

For Penn, who famously gifted one in all his two Oscars to Zelensky as a symbolic gesture of solidarity — “I used to be going to offer them each to him, however I don’t prefer to journey with checked baggage, after which my backpack was too heavy, [and] I feel he ended up with the ‘Mystic River’ one,” he says — his relationship to Zelensky is way extra profound than that of a director and his topic.

Theirs is a friendship born of extraordinary circumstances.

“I can’t converse for him,” says Penn, “however absolutely from my aspect, I might say that, with not a lot time to make an emotional choice, I feel I got here away from that second assembly — on that day of the invasion — having a sense of affection for the person.”

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