Avengers: Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo already know what you’re thinking: why are the two biggest filmmakers on the planet putting their box-office might behind an Arabic-language war film?After four Marvel blockbusters (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame), shouldn’t they be turning their attention to, I dunno, the X-Men?It’s a little unconventional, Anthony, 49, admits over lunch.
“But when you can take a run at something as a storyteller or filmmaker that hasn’t been done before, it’s very exciting.”Through their new studio, AGBO, the Cleveland-born brothers are aiming to tell smaller-scale stories.
Films that represent the brothers’ desire to tell stories that, as Anthony puts it, “dig deeper on a global storytelling level.”Mosul, which adapts Luke Mogelson’s New Yorker article The Avengers of Mosul, is their first project.
The film, which had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this week and screens again Sunday night, follows an elite Iraqi SWAT team who fought back against the rise of ISIS in 2016.The article was first brought to their attention by Endgame screenwriter Stephen McFeely, who, along with co-writer Christopher Markus, is a partner in AGBO.“McFeely has written every Marvel movie we’ve made.
It moved us so much that we wanted to help bring it to the big screen,” Anthony says.
A scene from Mosul.
While they were still in production with Infinity War and Endgame, Matthew Michael Carnahan (the writer behind Deepwater Horizon, World War Z) was brought in to write and direct.Executive producer Mohamed Al-Daradji joined forces with the Russos after reading Carnahan’s script.“Iraqi people, Muslim people … it’s hard to recall a film that has portrayed one of those groups in a good way,” Al-Daradji says.
“And (Carnahan) understands humanity on a sophisticated level.”Anthony adds: “For us, it all came from a place of just wanting to adopt a perspective we hadn’t seen before and approach it that way.
This is a case of people from the international film community coming together to tell this unique Iraqi story … Joe and I and AGBO are uniquely suited to make a movie like this.
I don’t think there’s another studio that would have made the choices we did on this film.”Suhail Dabbach, who plays Jasem, leader of the SWAT team, has been hailed as one of the film’s standouts.“I don’t know that we’ve heard a story as powerful as Suhail’s,” Joe, 48, chimes.
“He had dreams of becoming an actor when he was forced to leave Iraq after Saddam (Hussein) allowed his son to take over the arts.
But he’s a world-class talent.
Deadline compared his performance to Tom Hanks’ (as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood).
He had given up acting; thought his dream was over and we asked him to be the lead in the movie.
Sitting next to him at the premiere in Venice was so emotional.”Eighteen years after they first came to TIFF with the caper comedy Welcome to Collinwood, the Russos shared their thoughts on Spider-Man’s departure from the MCU, spoke about the decision to form AGBO, and reflect on the circuitous path that saw them go from two TV hits (Arrested Development and Community) to directing the biggest movie of all time.After being in the Marvel world for the past seven years, you two have formed AGBO, an independent film studio.
What was the reasoning behind that?Anthony: We feel very fortunate with the road that we’ve been able to go down with Marvel.
But, growing up, Joe and I have always been very globally minded.
We’ve always looked at politics and social situations that are happening around the world.
Making those Marvel movies, really allowed us to feel close to the global audience because they are popular.
We got to travel the world and meet people and engage with fans from all over the place.
That was very energizing to us and really motivated us to dig deeper on a global storytelling level.Mosul is a unique war movie because it presents conflict from an Iraqi point of view.
Was that what sold you on it?Anthony: It’s so hard to understand a war zone because, firstly, it’s hard to get into a war zone.
But also, when people are leaving a conflict, a lot of times they don’t want to talk about it.
So getting an understanding of a war zone is very difficult.
Luke Mogelson’s New Yorker article drew such a wonderfully sensitive portrait of these people that all of a sudden, what was happening in Iraq took on new resonance and new interest.
It started to feel like a story that could be very accessible.
So we just wanted to help bring that story to a wider audience through cinema.Did anyone suggest casting a well-known American or British actor to help give the film wider appeal?Anthony: The fact that no major movie had been done in this way before, all in the Arabic language, where the entire cast is Iraqi, that was unprecedented on every level.
To us it means we’re filling a void that should have been filled a long time ago.
That was the creative upside for us.What types of stories do you hope to tell at AGBO?Joe: We certainly love telling stories on the Marvel scale, because we do think you can infuse those films with themes that are compelling and interesting and you can reach people all over the world with those stories.
But this is who we are.
We are politically-minded, global citizens.
We are in a difficult time right now where we are divided into two groups: those looking out for themselves and those who are looking out for the community.
We want to look out for the community and help tell stories that reflect the community.I’ve met you both on the set of Infinity War and written about you many times.
Yet, I don’t know what made you want to become filmmakers.
How did the Russos wind their way to Hollywood?Joe: It’s a combination of a few things.
We grew up in a big Italian family and we used to sit around the dinner table telling stories.
So we have an emotional connection and fondness for that.
But, in addition to that, Anthony and I grew up as film academics.
We loved watching films and discussing them.
So we went through a few cycles.
Our father was a late-night movie guy, and we watched (Humphrey) Bogart films with him and action-thrillers like The French Connection.
Then, as we got older, there was a teacher who spoke to us in high school about seeing film as art, so there were things like Apocalypse Now and Citizen Kane.
When we got into college, we started watching foreign titles and exploring French New Wave cinema and Japanese filmmaking.
So we had a layered academic approach to movies, but all of it was built around the conversations we would have after we saw films.
But there was a moment in the ‘90s that was sparked in part by (Steven) Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape, where it seemed you could make a movie by maxing out credit cards and we did that.Anthony: It seemed like you could come from anywhere — even Cleveland.
We did have another light-bulb moment when Robert Rodriguez made El Mariachi.
He wrote a book about how he made that for $7,000.
That was a light-bulb moment for us where we both said, ‘Wow, you can make a movie for $7,000?’ All of a sudden it felt tangible.
That was the moment where we began to figure out how we were going to become filmmakers.You helped bring Spider-Man into the MCU in Captain America: Civil War.
Now it looks like Tom Holland’s wall-crawler is no longer going to be a part of Marvel’s future.
What do you make of the split?Anthony: It was so difficult to get him into Civil War.
It was an extremely long and hard process.
But we were driven to help make it happen.
But (Marvel Studios President) Kevin Feige pulled it off, somehow.
Disney and all the good people at Sony found a way to make it work and it lasted a few films.
We had a wonderful experience with that and I think audiences really appreciated that marriage.
But we know how hard that marriage was to make in the first place, so the fact that the marriage fell apart isn’t really that surprising to me and Joe.Joe: It was a tenuous, fraught union throughout the whole process.
But, I will say, stepping back and trying to be objective as possible, that I think it’s a tragic mistake on Sony’s part to think that they can replicate Kevin’s penchant for telling incredible stories and the amazing success he has had over the years.
I think it’s a big mistake.
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