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The Sands International Film Festival, Scotland’s burgeoning film event, opened its second edition this weekend with the world premiere of citadelthe much-discussed Prime Video series from Marvel writers Anthony and Joe Russo.
Two episodes of different lengths, but both well under the hour mark, were played as a surprise performance for the packed opening night audience. The response from the audience, made up of industry professionals and students from the University of St Andrews, a co-organizer of the festival, was jubilant with loud laughter and gasps for the surprisingly funny but brain-bending spy thriller.
The ambitious series is directed by Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Richard Madden, who play members of a secretive global spy agency called Citadel. After a deadly attack, the agency is disbanded and its elite agents are robbed of their memories. With Citadel out of the way, a powerful new syndicate, Manticore, rises in the void. And now it’s up to Bernard Orlick, the former overlord of the Citadel, played by Stanley Tucci, to reform the agency and stop Manticore from establishing a new world order.
The AGBO production team of Anthony and Joe Russo created the series for Amazon and the brothers serve as executive producers alongside Mike Larocca, Angela Russo-Otstot and Scott Nemes, with David Weil serving as showrunner and executive producer. Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Newton Thomas Sigel and Patrick Moran are also executive producers. In addition to the Mothership series, helmed by Chopra Jonas and Madden, citadel also has local language branches in India and Italy.
The opening screening was introduced by Joe Russo who is a key Sands supporter alongside Screen Scotland. Shortly after the premiere, Russo spoke up meeting about the creation of citadelwho is working with Amazon boss Jennifer Salke and his plan to make Sands an annual pre-Cannes stop on the festival calendar.
MEETING: How did they citadel go to the screening? And why are you bringing the series here to Sands?
JOE RUSSO: We are here to support the festival. Sands is a festival about emerging filmmakers in an incredible academic setting in a corner of the world that I have a strong affection and family history for.
MEETING: That family story, your daughter graduated from St Andrews?
SOOT: She did. She graduated a few years ago. But later I let a nephew and two nieces go here. And a very close friend now sends his children here. So we have a strong connection to the university.
MEETING: And what is the place of cinema here in St Andrews? What is the goal of Sands?
SOOT: The ultimate goal for me would be to expand the festival further and include other forms of media. My brother and I are technologists and futurists. We’re interested in what’s next. I think there are a lot of creative minds emerging in social media that are compelling. They’re self-starters, and Gen Z has a very different philosophy about what media is and where to find information. To them, a story can be a 30-second TikTok, and I’m not here to judge. I’m here to celebrate interesting work I see. I want to start by bringing in emerging voices from all forms of media. Not just in the movies.
MEETING: How much commitment to citadel did Amazon do it?
SOOT: The most important aspect of this project is that Jennifer Salke came to us with a very bold and noble idea, which is: “Hey, why don’t we tell a story rich enough to fragment into series and other markets? where we can find the best artists and storytellers in these regions to tell their own version of the story in their own language. It was an incredible idea. And as folks who have spent a long time communicating with audiences around the world with Marvel, this idea appealed to us.
We love working with people. We love hearing from different voices. We get tired of hearing the same voices over and over again. So if we can leverage our platform and Amazon’s resources, and Jen is willing to leverage Amazon’s platform to help artists and other regions around the world tell their stories at scale, we’re all here for it .
MEETING: The first two episodes of citadel Directed by Newton Thomas Sigel. Will you and Anthony ever be behind the camera?
SOOT: We certainly could. It’s just a function of timing for us. But we are very invested. I was on set with Tom [Sigel] for most of the filming he did. Tom is brilliant. He’s been in the business for a long time and has one of the most incredible resumes. We continued to work with him extraction, which was a difficult shoot. He even acted as a de facto producer extraction because of his experience. Then he continued to work for us cherry. He has the ability to tell big stories and highly experimental stories. We wanted to give him the opportunity to direct because we could see it in him and he blew it.
MEETING: How did you come up with Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Richard Madden?
SOOT: We met Madden because we loved him bodyguard. We sat down with him and joked about the possibility of him playing James Bond. A few months later, the concept of citadel was born. We called Madden and said forget what we said about Bond, we think we have something for you. with Priyanka, citadel is built for international appeal, and few stars have her pedigree and ability to cross markets. Jen Salke actually recommended them and we thought it was a fantastic idea.
MEETING: Was there a specific moment while working on the Marvel projects that influenced your desire to tell cross-cultural stories?
SOOT: If you work in this business and spend most of your time in Hollywood, you can become isolated from a variety of viewpoints. You may have a lack of understanding of how the rest of the world thinks. The global market is without question the most important market for the future. It matters theatrically, and for streamers, its expansion will come from there.
Working with Marvel and this huge advertising machine, we’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world for months promoting these films, connecting with fans and fellow filmmakers. We were exposed to new cultures and film industries where we found connections that opened our perspective to global storytelling. As a man with children, I’m concerned about the development of the world and without a global connection we are in big trouble. Based on that experience we have turned our gaze outwards to other markets to try to support them in a way Steven Soderbergh did for us all those years ago.
MEETING: With that philosophy, what would the best version of Hollywood look like for you?
SOOT: Certainly a more diverse version and one that is more international. Bollywood, for example, is one of the most important film companies in the world, but has an extremely small presence outside of India. Thank god for movies like RRR, using a level of technical genius, visual effects and mythological storytelling to appeal to a much wider audience. We get to know other cultures from such films. So, I think our goal would be empowerment. We want to support other markets as much as possible so that their stories reach out more widely.
MEETING: This is Sands’ second year. How was the experience of directing a festival? What did you learn?
SOOT: I love it. Aim should be to expand slightly each year and grow organically over time. Every time I come to St Andrews I can’t get over how incredible the setting is for a film festival. It’s a city built to support a festival and it has a lot more infrastructure than what we’re using right now.
MEETING: Would you like the festival to develop into a market?
SOOT: A market is always helpful to support a festival. It was helpful for Cannes and other festivals around the world. So I think we could support a market, but it’s about how we can create a future-oriented market. It wouldn’t have to be a huge market, just a compelling market that attracts the right material.
MEETING: Will you keep Sands on this date in April?
SOOT: Yes, I don’t think we will postpone it.
MEETING: It was earlier last year, wasn’t it?
SOOT: Yes. We deliberately preferred this year to get closer to Cannes. And maybe next year we’ll even bring it a weekend closer.
MEETING: Why this? It’s hard to compete with Cannes for films.
SOOT: It’s tough to compete with Cannes, but there’s always room for counter-programming. If you look under Sundance, there was Slamdance. And if you look at the filmmakers that have come out of Slamdance: us, Chris Nolan, Rian Johnson, so pound for pound, you have some filmmakers that are making a significant impact out of this festival. So there is always a way to counter-program.
MEETING: Now that you’re looking at all the festivals on the calendar, is there a template you’d like to emulate?
SOOT: I think South by Southwest is the most forward-thinking festival in the world. I love how it encompasses all the different aspects of media and brings them together for conversation. I’d like to go down a similar path because that’s what a modern festival looks like. We have to start somewhere. But as we slowly expand, I want to engage creators of music, video games, and social media content to create a hub where people can meet and share what’s going on in the arts.