Sean Penn tried to turn the conversation at the Cannes Film Festival to Haiti, hosting a fundraiser for the earthquake-ravaged and poverty-stricken country.

It was the first time the festival has used its glitzy, global spotlight to attract attention for a cause not connected with a movie.

Penn, director Paul Haggis and model Petra Nemcova brought their individual charities together for a black-tie dinner Friday evening to benefit their organizations and renew attention to the Caribbean country. Designer Giorgio Armani co-hosted the gala.

"A film festival is not simply about films, ever," Penn said. "This isn't a film, what we're doing now. It's not a film when we stand outside and we take pictures for magazines. What it all has to do with is an expression and a shared experience."

Penn, a Cannes veteran of numerous films including last year's Palme d'Or winner, "The Tree of Life," posed for photographers ahead of a press conference, and appeared ill at ease with the celebrity-fawning that often comes along with the festival.

He compared the importance of raising money for Haiti, which was devastated by an earthquake in 2010, to finding money for serious films.

"Do we stand by and wait for the studio to release the funds to make a great film or do we jump start that and show how those things can work and cut through it with fundraisers like we're going to do now?" asked the actor.

Penn also called on President Barack Obama to work with Haiti President Michel Martelly. "It is time for our formidable and elegant president to stand side by side with the new president of Haiti," Penn said.

Haggis, the director of the Oscar-winning "Crash," declined to get into politics, but said: "We're three white people sitting here from various places in the world. All we're going to do is help give these people a shot that they never had."