Sean Penn’s Ukraine War Doc ‘Superpower’ Receives Warm Reception at Berlin World Premiere
Solidarity with Ukraine has been a constant theme at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival, but the issue came to the forefront Friday night at the world premiere of Sean Penn’s latest film Superpower, a documentary profile of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wartime leadership.
Before the curtain came up at Berlin’s Verti Music Hall, where the premiere was held, Penn offered a personal introduction from the stage, thanking the film festival for hosting the premiere and “being so respectful of the Ukrainians, who are fighting a fight on all of our behalf.”
And when the credits rolled a little under two hours later, the Berlin crowd rose to its feet to give Penn and his collaborators a warm standing ovation.
Penn has said that he originally planned Superpower, which he co-directed with Aaron Kaufman, as a “whimsical tale of a comic actor turned president,” but the project changed radically after Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Portions of the film were shot both before and after the attack’s outset, offering a staggering depiction of the war’s toll on Ukraine. The film follows Penn as he travels to the front lines of the conflict to meet with soldiers and observe firsthand how the battle is being waged.
Penn revealed at the screening that he had returned just days prior from Ukraine, his sixth trip to the country. He said Superpower’s true world premiere was the one held for Zelensky and his staff earlier in the week.
In an earlier show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, and a show of defiance against Russia, the Berlin festival invited the Ukraine President to open this year’s Berlinale with the live video message. The audience rose to their feet when Zelensky was introduced and applauded his speech throughout.
“Culture chooses a side when it decide to speak out against evil,” Zelensky said, “and it takes a side when it remains silent and in fact helps the evil.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, Zelensky has been tireless in his use of media events to attract attention to his country’s cause and to drum up political and military support. In addition to speaking before Congress, the U.K. House of Parliament and Germany’s Bundestag, he has made numerous video appearances at major film festivals, including Cannes and Venice last year, and even sent a video message to the Grammys.