Evviva Hollywood! A cinematic night to remember

Jan 27, 2024 753

BY: Truby Chiaviello

It’s a new day in Tinseltown. Italian Americans, of Hollywood, are, from now on, to be rightly recognized for their important contributions to cinema. New filmmakers are to be encouraged to make short films with themes related to the Italian American experience. Enter the Russos.

Film directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, along with their sister, Angela Russo-Otstot, have conceived and organized the Renaissance Award and The Russo Brothers Italian American Filmmaker Forum, with support from the Italian Sons and Daughters of America (ISDA) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations (COPOMIAO); as led by their father, Judge Basil M. Russo. 

On January 18, the first-ever ceremony and gala for the Renaissance Award was convened inside the Russos’ AGBO film studio complex in Los Angeles. A beautifully designed sculpture of Murano glass was given to the award’s first recipient; none other than Louis D’Esposito, executive producer and co-president at Marvel Studios, the dominant box office force in today’s Hollywood. 

Presidents and top officers of various Italian American organizations from all parts of the country came to attend this important event. They were joined by film stars Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista, of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Joe Piscopo, Saturday Night Live alum and radio show host, actor Michael Badalucco, singer Lena Prima, daughter of Louis Prima, and Frankie Valli, the great rock crooner. 

The theater inside AGBO was filled to capacity as Joe and Anthony Russo began the ceremony. They were joined, on stage, by their sister, Angela, chief creative officer at AGBO, who paid tribute to their parents, Basil and Patricia Russo, sitting in the front row. 

Angela proclaimed the goal of the Russo Brothers Italian American Filmmaker Forum was to help fund Italian American-themed short films and documentaries. An additional purpose was to help raise funds for the Italian American Future Leaders Conference (IAFL), held earlier in January to great fanfare, in Fort Lauderdale, founded by COPOMIAO Vice President John M. Viola, also in attendance at the gala event in Los Angeles. 

Actor, writer and director, Jon Favreau, who is Italian on his father’s side, was there to present the Renaissance Award to Louis D’Esposito. It was Favreau who directed “Iron Man,” a key film, in 2008, to help solidify box office supremacy for Marvel Studios. Favreau had recruited his good friend, D’Esposito, to serve as a producer for the film. By then, D’Esposito had made his way up the Hollywood ladder as first assistant director for dozens of films such as “Basic Instinct,” “The Pursuit of Happyness,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” Because of the success with “Iron Man,” D’Esposito continued as executive producer for subsequent Marvel films. He then became co-president at Marvel Studios, sharing duties with the renowned, Kevin Feige. 

D’Esposito served as executive producer for films that, together, have generated more than $30 billion in box office revenue for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Joe and Anthony looked to D’Esposito as their mentor when making four top films for Marvel: 

  • “Avengers: Endgame,” 2019, $2,8 billion revenue
  • Avengers: Infinity War,” 2018, $2.1 billion revenue
  • Captain America: Civil War,” 2016, $1.2 billion revenue
  • Captain American: The Winter Soldier,” 2014, $714 million revenue
  • Avengers: Endgame” remains second, in a neck-and-neck race, to James Cameron’s “Avatar” for the highest grossing film in history. 

In receiving this year’s Renaissance Award, D’Esposito paid tribute to his Italian American upbringing. He was born and raised, in what he claimed was “New York’s real Little Italy,” along Arthur Avenue, in the Bronx. He is famous in Hollywood for his infectious optimism and relentless energy. His nurturing spirit stems from his Italian American roots. His hands-on approach is to facilitate production. He can be found on set or on location to ensure the needs are fulfilled for everyone, in front of, and behind, the camera.

During the award ceremony at AGBO, a montage of photographs was presented of actors and actresses, who played Marvel superheroes and villains, beside a broad smiling D’Esposito. Some, including several directors, and Marvel co-president, Kevin Feige, taped congratulatory videos to praise D’Esposito for his unwavering support and vigor. 

D’Esposito said the Renaissance Award was rightly named for the versatility of the Italian spirit. He is no different from many in Italy, he says, who enjoy art, food, wine, and various scholarly pursuits. Although he makes his living from visual images, D’Esposito admits to spending his free time reading novels and biographies.

Before and after the ceremony, guests were treated to outstanding Italian food, as prepared by Bolognese chef, Steve Samson, of nearby Rossoblu, one of LA’s top Italian restaurants. Glasses of prosecco and original cocktails were continuously served inside the stunning AGBO studios. The gathering provided a special opportunity for Italian Americans leaders, from different parts of the country, to greet, meet, and discuss the latest challenges facing our community. The evening highlight was when the Jazz band, on hand to entertain guests, was joined by Lena Prima to sing several of her father’s most famous songs, such as the perennial hit, “I Am Just a Gigolo.” 

The Russos are to be commended for conceiving and sponsoring the Renaissance Award. Their planned annual event can set a new precedent of recognition for Italian Americans in Hollywood. Although many Italian Americans contributed mightily to cinema, they received little in the way of accolades from the Hollywood establishment of past generations.

Pioneers in cinematography, film editing, and special effects, were all but snubbed for Oscars, such as Joseph A. Valentine, Sol Polito, Nicholas Masuraca, George Tomasini, Tom Savini, and many more. Some of the most influential filmmakers in history never received due recognition such as Brian DePalma, Dario Argento, Sergio Leone and Mario Bava.

The Renaissance Award inaugurates a new era of respect for the best of Italian Americans in cinema. We look forward to more awards to come in the years ahead. 


Editor’s Note: You can learn more about The Russo Brothers Italian American Filmmaker Forum here.

PRIMO Magazine is a proud member of the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations (COPOMIAO).

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