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The Russo brothers, 'Avengers' directors, fill the summer movie void with 'Pizza Film School'

By Brian Lowry | July 9, 2020

Directors Joe Russo, left, and Anthony Russo, right, flank Chris Evans on the set of 'Avengers: Infinity War.' (Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios)

(CNN)As the directors of the record-breaking "Avengers: Endgame" and "Infinity War," brothers Joe and Anthony Russo have delivered the ultimate summer movies.

But in a summer that, because of coronavirus, could be the first in decades without such blockbusters, they've turned their attention to creating that sort of communal experience online -- with pizza.
Since May, the Russos have been hosting an online program titled "Russo Bros. Pizza Film School." They assign movies to fans for discussion, with the objective being "to educate and spread some love to favorite classic films, as well as local pizzerias while movie lovers are stuck at home."
The two use the program to showcase movies that impacted them or that they simply admire -- titles such as "The Evil Dead," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "No Country for Old Men" -- and invite guests to weigh in on the films. In this week's edition, which is devoted to the 1980 version of "Flash Gordon," they will be joined by Taika Waititi, who directed "Jojo Rabbit" and "Thor: Ragnarok."
In an interview with CNN, Joe Russo said the idea was suggested by his daughter, as he showed the family movies to pass the time during the early stages of staying at home. They discussed "what it was that inspired us about the movie. For us, it was a great opportunity to talk about the filmmaking process," he said, "and make it accessible to young filmmakers who are looking for a way to tell their own stories."
He also saw the viral clip that circulated of an audience responding exuberantly to the climactic portals scene in "Endgame," which highlighted the communal viewing that has been noticeably -- and for many, painfully -- absent this spring and summer, as movies shifted to home consumption or, in the case of most major titles, have been postponed.
How 'Avengers: Endgame' shattered records in 2019
How 'Avengers: Endgame' shattered records in 2019 01:27
"Endgame" opened in the US on April 26, 2019, so its one-year anniversary came during shelter-at-home orders. As a result, clips capturing film-goers' jubilant reactions carried extra weight for those wondering when they might be able to enjoy such an experience again.
"Seeing that was very emotional for us and very touching, to be reminded of how audiences responded to that movie," Joe Russo said.
In addition to the two "Avengers" movies, the Russos also directed the "Captain America" sequels "The Winter Soldier" and "Civil War." They have parlayed the clout associated with their Marvel success into championing a variety of projects, which includes producing the recent Netflix action movie "Extraction," starring Chris Hemsworth, and the small haunted-house-type tale "Relic," starring Emily Mortimer, which premieres July 10 on digital platforms.
(front) Danai Gurira, Jeremy Renner, Anthony Russo, Chris Evans, Joe Russo, Brie Larson and Mark Ruffalo at the "Avengers: Endgame" press junket in April 2019.
The pair's association with Marvel gave them "the ability to get things made," older brother Anthony Russo said. "For Joe and I, it's very important to find and support voices that we respond strongly to. ... To the degree that we are able to, we want to do that for other filmmakers."
As for a summer thus far without movies in theaters, Anthony Russo notes that seeing films with a crowd "is always going to be unique, in the way watching something at home can't be." But the Russos see advantages in the growth and maturation of streaming and other distribution options, creating avenues that might not otherwise be possible, especially for less broadly commercial concepts.
"The way that audiences can access movies is changing," Anthony Russo said, with digital having "taken on outsized importance" during the pandemic.
In the meantime, they've had a chance to chat with some of their cinematic idols doing "Pizza Film School," including Mark Hamill reminiscing about "The Empire Strikes Back," and an upcoming chat with writer Bob Gale regarding "Back to the Future."
Joe Russo recalled that the brothers were "saturated in pop culture" growing up, which included getting dropped off at the multiplex and staying there for hours. Eventually, they expect movie-going to make a comeback.
"The theatrical experience will always be there," Anthony Russo said. "It will recover."
"The Russo Bros. Pizza Film School" installments play at 3 p.m. ET Fridays on Instagram TV and the AGBO YouTube Channel, where you can also find past episodes.