On 12 January 2010, life in Haiti was thrown into chaos by an earthquake of a magnitude that was previously unheard of on the island. Hundreds of thousands of people were dead and wounded, a catastrophic toll that created a powerful emotional response around the world. Days after the quake, Sean Penn immediately went to Haiti to assist in emergency relief and founded the J/P Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO). Also working in Haiti at that time was Canadian director-screenwriter Paul Haggis, founder of Artists for Peace and Justice, and Czech super model and humanitarian Petra Nemcova, founder and chair of Happy Hearts Fund which started its work in Haiti in 2007. Today, all three individuals and their organizations are playing a vital and central role in rebuilding the nation.
To help them carry out their extraordinary work and to pay tribute to their tireless humanitarian activities, the Festival de Cannes is hosting a gala fund raising event in support of the Haitian cause. This event is the first of its kind for the Festival de Cannes, since the benefit screening of Il était une fois, l’Amérique by Sergio Leone in 1984 in support of the Institut Pasteur, and the screening of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s film Elective Affinities in 1996, in support of the reconstruction of the Fenice.
The gala evening, presented by Giorgio Armani, will feature a fund raising dinner on Friday, 18 May at the Festival Agora. The funds raised at the gala will benefit all three charities and help them to bring sustainable programs to the Haitian people quickly and effectively.
A Haitian show entitled “Carnival in Cannes” will present a concert of authentic RaRa and Racine music, created with the RAM band, Haiti's leading Racine group, brought in for the occasion from Haiti. The event will be co-sponsored by Chopard.
Sean Penn has a very close connection with the Festival de Cannes, having presented films in Competition (including The Pledge in 2001, which he directed) and in Un Certain Regard, and he served as President of the Jury in 2008.
The Festival de Cannes is very proud to join ranks with Sean Penn, Paul Haggis and Petra Nemcova in their fight to help Haiti and its inhabitants.
Thierry Fremaux commented, “Sean Penn is a good friend of the Festival de Cannes, he came in Competition as an actor and as a director, he was President of the Jury. But it is not the only reason why we offered to receive him. We are greatly fascinated by his permanent and long-lasting commitment to Haiti’s recovery. And we are very pleased to be a part of this evening which intends to raise money and honor the Haitians themselves.”
Gilles Jacob commented, “People say that a great actor is by nature egocentric, and that a great director is focussed on his art. Sean Penn is both a great actor and director. What he does above and beyond that for the people and the land of Haiti, giving freely of himself, his abiding presence, his work – one could almost say the work of his own hands – his whole discreet, human, moral and altruistic involvement as a benefactor, commands our greatest respect.”
Giorgio Armani added, "I am proud to stand alongside Sean Penn, a man cut from a very rare cloth. He first captivated me as an astonishing actor. Then as a respected director. Then as a loyal friend. And now, as a life changer. It is an honor to be a part of Sean's remarkable life of service by joining his humanitarian efforts for the people of Haiti. For this to come to fruition at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival marks a career milestone for me, and demonstrates what happens when you work with Sean, a world-class force of nature."