by Phil Contrino
With the success of Avengers: Endgame, directors Anthony and Joe Russo set a record for the biggest global box office hit of all time, with nearly $2.8 billion worldwide. Yet the brothers haven’t forgotten their roots, both as independent filmmakers struggling to get their first film noticed and as Italian Americans.
In 2016, Anthony and Joe—along with their parents, Basil and Patricia, and sister, Angela—announced the formation of The Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum in partnership with Italian Sons and Daughters of America and the National Italian American Foundation. The goal of their Film Forum is to “offer grants, guidance, training, and internships to aspiring filmmakers across the country, affording them opportunities to create films that depict and explore the Italian American experience for the understanding of future generations” and to “empower Italian American artists to continue the quest to tell our story to the world around us.”
The program has grown quite a bit since launching. According to Basil Russo, his family received nearly 80 applications this year, including a dozen or so from native Italian filmmakers.
“This is about passing on our stories from one generation to the next,” says Basil Russo. “Otherwise, that history sometimes get lost. A lot of Italian families regret not sitting down with Nonna and recording her story.”
During the National Italian American Foundation’s 44th Anniversary Gala on November 2 in Washington, D.C., the Film Forum highlighted three finalists out of eight films that each received $8,000 to bring their project to life. The finalists were:
John Peter Didato for Ciao, Sesame Street!, a heartfelt and hilarious look at Italian Americans who have contributed to the success of the popular children’s show.
Sandra Jean Grasso for Heirloom, which explores the significance of gardens in the Italian American community through experiences with her own family.
Sim Smiley for Maximum John, which focused on Judge John Sirica’s historic role in the Watergate trials.
Anthony and Joe Russo announced the winner via satellite at the event: Ciao, Sesame Street!
Click here to read more about The Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum.