The makers of “Citizen Penn,” a documentary about actor Sean Penn’s volunteer work in Haiti, have updated their film to include footage of the Oscar-winner’s efforts to expand access to COVID-19 testing.
Over the past few months, director Don Hardy and producer Shawn Dailey have followed Penn as he worked with his non-profit organization CORE to set up free testing sites in places such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, New Orleans and the Navajo Nation.
The new footage will play during the film’s final credits — a section that includes a new song “Eden: To Find Love” that was written by Linda Perry and co-written and performed by Bono. Penn was motivated to set up centers after it became clear that the U.S. faced a severe shortage of coronavirus tests, a public health failure that experts believe contributed to the virus’ rapid spread.
“Citizen Penn” originally intended to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, but the April event was cancelled as New York became the epicenter of the disease.
“We were able to take advantage of the extra time afforded us,” says Hardy. “That allowed us to show the ways that Sean and his organization are adapting to meet the need for COVID-testing.”
The filmmaking team also felt that the footage of Penn’s new mission meshed perfectly with the Bono/Perry collaboration.
“I can’t think of a better way to end a ten-year project than to have [Bono] singing about the good work of this friend that he’s spent many nights tumbling out of pub in Ireland with,” says Dailey. “It allowed us to take the viewer right up to the present day.”
The bulk of “Citizen Penn” follows the “Dead Man Walking” and “Milk” star as he takes the unusual step of hurling himself onto the frontlines of a global crisis. Days after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, killing 250,000 people and injuring an additional 300,000, Penn journeyed to the island nation. Once there what began as a two-week aid mission, grew into a much larger effort, one that saw him take over management duties for the largest camp for displaced people in the entire country.
The film reveals a different side of Penn, from the popular image of the gruff, Method acting, political pugilist who is equally unafraid of throwing a punch at the paparazzi or sitting down with El Chapo or Hugo Chavez.
“Almost everyone has an opinion of him,” says Hardy. “No one says, ‘Sean Penn, he’s okay.’ But what I think comes through in this film is that he’s a real guy. He’s somebody who is trying to do the best he can for other people. He’s putting himself out there.”
Dailey and Hardy have enough footage of Penn’s efforts to set up testing centers to fill an entire movie of its own. So will there be a follow-up?
“We joke that we should make ‘Citizen Penn: The COVID Years,” says Hardy. “Bit it’s entirely possible that we’ll make another movie. We’ll just approach it the same way we did the first film, by being there to catalog what happens.”
“We don’t know where it’s going, but we just know it needs to be done,” says Dailey.
Before that happens, Dailey and Hardy have a number of projects on their dance card. The pair recently worked on “The Way Home,” a short-form documentary series that examines the homelessness crisis in California, which happens to have the largest homeless population in the U.S.
They are also working to find backing for “Underdog,” the story of Zach Skow, a man whose love of his three dogs — Tug, Buddy and Marley — helped him to overcome drug addiction and alcoholism. Skow went on to found Marley’s Mutts in 2009, a non-profit group dedicated to rehabilitating and finding homes for no-hope castaway dogs. From its base of operations in Tehachapi, Calif., Marley’s Mutts has become globally recognized, broadening its activities to include collaborations with rescue organizations around the world. It also works with inmates inside California State Prisons to train dogs. To date Marley’s Mutts has rescued, rehabilitated and found homes for more than 4,000 dogs.
“Zach is an inspiring guy, who also happens to be movie star handsome,” says Hardy.