Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Expected at Berlinale

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to make an appearance at the Berlinale, Variety has learned.

A spokesperson for the Berlin Film Festival, which kicks off on Thursday, confirmed that the Ukrainian leader “will be present at Berlinale in some kind of form,” although “which and when is not confirmed yet.”

Zelenskyy is the subject of one of the festival’s most high-profile projects: Sean Penn and Aaron Kaufman’s top-secret documentary “Superpower.” The details of the film have remained sparse for over a year, when it was first revealed that Penn had been in Ukraine when the war with Russia broke out.

While the Ukrainian leader has been making a number of virtual appearances at various awards ceremonies in the last year, in recent weeks he’s been venturing outside the country and making trips around Europe. Last week, in what was his second trip outside Ukraine in the last year (the first was to the U.S. just before Christmas), he met with U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, along with France’s President Emmanuel Macron.

Were Zelenskyy to attend in person for the film’s Berlinale premiere, the festival will need to put serious thought into security details for the leader, along with audiences.

As Penn and Kaufman detailed in an exclusive interview with Variety on Monday, “Superpower” was initially intended as a documentary charting Zelenskyy’s career trajectory from actor-comedian-producer playing a history teacher elected as Ukraine’s president in the satirical TV series “Servant of the People,” to a rising political star elected as the real-life president of Ukraine in 2019. However, following the outbreak of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the project had to pivot in order to become more of a profile of a modern warn hero.

“Superpower” was planned in advance of the pandemic, and then delayed when the COVID crisis hit. Penn, who had been conversing with Zelenskyy over phone and Zoom during that two-year period, met with the president on Feb. 23, 2022. The war broke out one day later.

This year’s Berlinale coincides with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s war in Ukraine. “Superpower” world premieres at the festival on Friday.

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