EXCLUSIVE: Scotland’s St. Andrews is known for its ruins and for being the birthplace of golf. Avengers: Endgame co-director Joe Russo hopes that an annual international film festival he’ll help get off the ground next year will become an additional destination to the seaside Scottish town. Sands: International Film Festival of St. Andrews is launching March 25-27, 2022. It will be backed by Russo, who with brother Anthony has been directing the Ryan Gosling-Chris Evans starrer The Gray Man for Netflix. Also backing are Ed, Virginia and Declan Murphy, and other donors. It will be held on the grounds of the University of St. Andrews. Curating it will be Sundance Film Festival programmer Ania Trzebiatowska, the former Off Camera Film Festival artistic director.
Russo fell in love with the school when his daughter studied film there, and over the years he got to know the film department heads, and judged student festivals and made guest lectures. When the topic of a film festival came up, Russo remembered what happened when he and Anthony brought to Slamdance Pieces, an avant garde black-and-white film they ran up credit card debt to make. Because they filled the film with popular music they had no rights to and could never afford, the film was never released. And, they note, they watched many walk out at the premiere. But they only needed and got one fan, Steven Soderbergh, who saw a kinship between their film and his early work. He took them under his wing and the rest is history. So the emphasis on this festival will be to unearth original voices with potential. During the pandemic and with time on his hands, Russo took up golf for the first time, though he said that has no bearing on why he felt the university was the perfect place to start a film festival and watch it grow.
“When I first visited the school I absolutely fell in love with it,” he said. “It’s a beautiful university in a small coastal town that is the home of golf, surrounded by ruins. The sense of community there and energy was infectious. My daughter studied film, and had an incredible experience and I’d grown close to the heads of the department and judged some internal student film festivals and done some guest lectures. They recently jumped ahead of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK university rankings and it has been a long time since anyone has knocked those two from the top of the list. This is a university on the rise.
“The intention is to launch a bona fide film festival that supports emerging filmmakers and new voices in filmmaking and uses the backdrop and the infrastructure of the university to support it,” he said. “It’s going to be run by the university’s Byre Theatre. Our company AGBO is lending financial support and I’m lending consulting support. The intent is to do something that helps this exceptional film department branch out and create visibility. We’ll start small but expand as it goes. I see a wonderful pollination between academics and filmmaking. Anthony and I were discovered at Slamdance, which is known for taking films that didn’t get into Sundance. If you go back and look at the trajectory of filmmakers that came out of Slamdance, many of them have made an incredible impact on the business, arguably more than the filmmakers who came out of Sundance. Focusing on emerging talent and making sure we’re targeting unique voices that have something powerful and important to say, that need to be supported by an institution as prestigious as St. Andrews, that will be our niche.”
Trzebiatowaska will begin putting together the festival launch slate, which will follow the theme “Beginnings,” and she sparked to the chance to “have the opportunity to build a film festival open to all, which I hope will be a welcome addition to the impressive landscape of Scottish and international film events.”
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