America needs a revolution, says Sean Penn

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The film actor and director Sean Penn said yesterday he believed America needed a revolution and spoke of his admiration for the direct action campaigns launched by anti-globalisation activists.

In a scathing attack on the political culture of his own country, Penn praised the protesters' commitment to change while dismissing the "saccharine" lifestyle of Hollywood and dismissing many of his contemporaries as talentless.

"I don't know if people value the thought of revolution any more. I think it would be an enormously patriotic movement to invest in the possibility of revolution," he said at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Around the world, from Seattle to Genoa, young people were putting themselves on the line for what they believed in, he added.

"We're going to start seeing film makers coming out of that group. They are people who care about something bigger than themselves. At that point, it doesn't become about America, or this place or that, but about some kind of unified interest in humanity and that's when the best films are made, when there's something unifying people."

He said he despaired of American moviegoers, the "mono-culture" of its films and the studios' blinkered focus on profits at the box office. "If you put three thoughts in a movie you've broken the law and no one will come," he added.

Penn said he had decided to concentrate on directing after becoming dismayed at the standard of many of the directors with whom he had worked.

"After about 10 years of working as an actor, I realised that most directors are so bad that I thought, 'Why not give it a go?' Truly, half the people in this room could work on that level. It takes enormous pressure off to know that if you put two thoughts into your movie, you're already well up on them. I actually wish I had started sooner."

Sitting alongside his wife, the actress Robin Wright Penn, who stars with Jack Nicholson in The Pledge, Penn's third film as director, he said audiences in America were deterred by intelligent films. More interesting work seemed to be coming out of Europe.

"American audiences are very insistent on being comfortable. The film makers I've come to know in European cinema tend to be more thoughtful. [In America] there's a consistent beating against anything that doesn't serve the bank."

Although he was not a political movie maker, he said he wanted his two children to grow up in a more enlightened culture, and was on the side of the anti-corporate protesters. "What I hope our own children will do is have a broader interest and not to think everything in entertainment or politics represent comfort."

His comments came days after the American writer Gore Vidal criticised the stupidity of his own people.

But the British actor Brian Cox, a member of the jury for the film festival's most prestigious prize, in memory of the producer and director Michael Powell, raised equally damning concerns about the state of the British film industry and television.

"So many films are copies of American films or they're trying to make them for a middle market that doesn't really exist. They're trying to second-guess the audiences," he said.

"They keep saying, 'It doesn't make any money,' but that criteria of making money comes from America," he said. "We're not making films that are getting into the consciousness of the people and plug into the culture of these islands."

A similar problem was affecting British television, he said, yet the Americans had perfected the art of intelligent television drama, as seen in series such as The Sopranos and The West Wing.