Berlin Film Fest to Beam in Zelensky for Opener with Sean Penn

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will join Hollywood actor Sean Penn by video link on Thursday at the opening of the Berlinale, Europe’s first major film festival of the year, as it spotlights the fight for freedom in Ukraine and Iran.

The 73rd annual event, traditionally the most politically minded of the three big European cinema showcases, will mark the Russian invasion’s first anniversary as well as anti-regime protests in Iran with new feature films and documentaries.

U.S. actor Kristen Stewart (“Spencer”), head of the jury for the Golden and Silver Bear top prizes, told reporters it was “an enormous opportunity to have a hand in highlighting beautiful things” in the face of global turmoil.

“It’s the job of an artist to take a disgusting and ugly thing and sort of transmute it and put it through your body and pump out something more beautiful…in response to the world that’s falling apart around us,” she said.

Artistic director Carlo Chatrian said the festival stood with “the suffering population, the millions who left Ukraine and the artists (who) have remained defending the country and continue filming the war,” adding that it was a “special honour” to welcome Zelenskyy digitally.

Penn will appear on stage at the opening gala in the German capital and introduce Zelenskyy who will speak via video stream, organizers said.

The two-time Oscar winner, who was filming in Kyiv at the start of the Russian onslaught, will on Friday premiere “Superpower”, tracking Zelenskyy’s transformation from comedian to president to war hero.