The 2023 Berlin Film Festival will open Thursday with a live video message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The festival confirmed Zelenskyy’s appearance Wednesday afternoon.
“The Berlinale, along with all filmmakers and participants, expresses solidarity with the people of Ukraine in their fight for its independence and strongly condemns the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine,” said Berlinale directors Mariëtte Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian.
Zelenskyy’s live message will be preceded by an on-stage introduction by actor Sean Penn, who brings his feature doc Superpower to Berlin. The film chronicles Zelenskyy and efforts on the ground in Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion.
The film screens as part of the Berlinale Specials program. Deadline understands that Zelenskyy won’t attend the festival in person, but his wife, Olena Zelenska, may attend the premiere.
Zelenskyy has made numerous video appearances at major film festivals since the beginning of Russia’s invasion. Speaking at the opening of Venice last year, Zelenskyy made connections between the history of cinema and the conflict, describing Russia’s invasion as “a horror which is not 120 minutes long, but 189 days of war going on in Ukraine.”
Zelenskyy said Russia’s “lowbrow plot in three scenes” was to nudge the world to make three dramatic mistakes, including getting used to the war, forgetting the war, and turning their backs on the war. “This design of theirs should never turn into reality,” he said.
Speaking directly to the audience, he added: “Cultural figures, film directors, producers, actors … from one and the same family, your stance is important. Your voice matters. Your word is strong. He added that the least they could do “is not remain silent.”
The opening film at Berlin this year is Rebecca Miller’s She Came to Me, starring Peter Dinklage, Marisa Tomei, Joanna Kulig, Brian d’Arcy James, and Anne Hathaway.
The film is billed as an exploration of “love in all its forms,” and is set in New York City, centering on composer Steven Lauddem (Dinklage), who is creatively blocked and unable to finish the score for his big comeback opera. At the behest of his wife Patricia (Anne Hathaway), formerly his therapist, he sets out in search of inspiration. What he discovers, the synopsis reads, is much more than he bargained for or imagined.
The festival runs Feb 16 – 26.
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