Flag Day: Star-Director Sean Penn Talks about his Movie, Directing his Own Daughter, COVID-19 and Trump

Flag Day: Star-Director Sean Penn Talks about his Movie, Directing his Own Daughter, COVID-19 and Trump

Cannes Film Fest 2021 (World Premiere)

Actor-director Sean Penn, who’s multiple Golden Globe nominee and winner (Mystic River) returns to the Cannes Film Fest this year with his latest directorial effort, Flag Day, starring his daughter, Dylan Penn, Josh Brolin, and Miles Teller, among others.

The movie played in the Main Competition, where several of Penn’s previous films, including The Pledge in 2001 and The Last Face in 2016, had appeared.

Based on Jennifer Vogel’s 2005 memoir, Flim-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father’s Counterfeit LifeFlag Day is the first time that Penn has directed himself alongside his daughter Dylan Penn (and in a smaller role, also his son Hopper Jack Penn).

In this well-acted but conventional family melodrama, Dylan Penn is cast as Jennifer Vogel, the daughter of a con artist named John (Penn), who struggles to come to terms with her father’s troubled past.

Two other actresses, Addison Tymec and Jadyn Rylee play the younger Jennifer in different ages.

Prior to the festival, MGM had acquired U.S. distribution rights, and plans to release it on August 13 through its joint venture, United Artists Releasing.

Asked in a press conference whether the love for Dylan Penn displayed by him in the film reflected the real life Sean Penn being an absent father while she was growing up, he said that anyone could check out IMDB for finding out the “all the simple jobs” he took during her childhood.

“One of the great things about the privilege I’ve had in working in film and being a parent is that, while there are periods of time where one’s away, once you’re done with that job, you’re the only parent in town 24-7, and that’s when the kids get upset.”

Penn claimed that he actually wanted to cast his daughter from the first time he read the book. “Certain images come to you when you read something, and in this case the first I saw when reading this was Dylan’s face,” he said.

Within minutes, the questions turned to real politics, which the actor-director was more than willing to discuss. Penn took aim at the Donald Trump administration and its response to the COVID-19 crisis in Cannes Festival on Sunday.

Penn was asked about his own work setting up testing sites during the pandemic via his disaster relief organization CORE and the efforts of the Trump government, which he described as a “obscene administration.”

Seeing the news during the global pandemic, he said, “it really felt like someone with a machine gun gunning down people from a turret in the White House.”

White he acknowledged the importance of the pre-buy of COVID vaccines, he said “there was no overall effort integrity from the government until the Trump administration was dismissed.”

Penn and the Cannes Festival

In 2008, Penn was invited to serve as the president of the jury at Cannes, a position occupied this year by fellow American Spike Lee.  Under his guidance, the jury honored the French movie, Laurent Cantet’s Entre Les Murs, with the top kudo, the Palm d’Or.

But the history of Penn and Cannes is long and rich, going back to the early 1980s, when he was a young actor trying to make his way in the world.

There’s an interesting backstory to how Penn, then 23, wound up hanging out with Robert De Niro, at the 1984 Cannes Film Fest.

At the time, Penn’s best known work was as the surfer Jeff Spicoli in the teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which went on to become a cult classic.

One day, Penn spotted vet actor Harry Dean Stanton sitting at a bar in the Sunset Strip of Los Angeles, and the two struck up a casual conversation.

“He regarded me highly,” Stanton later recalled. “And I was intrigued by this wide-eyed kid, who showed immense curiousness about all things Hollywood.”

Stanton mentioned rather casually that he was heading to Cannes to attend the festival, where — unbeknownst to him — his film Paris, Texas, directed by Wim Wenders, would go on to win the the top award, the Palme d’Or.

Penn asked if he could join him, to which Stanton replied, “Uh, OK.” So the two flew together to France. “All he brought with him was passport and toothbrush,” Stanton later said. The duo shared a hotel room for five days, at which point Stanton wanted some privacy and suggested rather politely that Penn find new lodging.

Penn then ingratiated himself with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, who were in Cannes supporting Sergio Leone’s historical epic, Once Upon a Time in America. De Niro, remembering his own days as a struggling actor in New York City, agreed pay for a room for Penn at the prestigious–and expensive–Hotel du Cap..”