The Sands International Film Festival, Scotland’s burgeoning film event, opened its second edition this weekend with the world premiere screening of Citadel, the much-talked-about Prime Video series from Marvel auteurs Anthony and Joe Russo.
Two episodes of varying length, but both well under the hour mark, played as a surprise screening for the packed opening night crowd. The response from the audience, which comprised a mix of industry professionals and students from the University of St. Andrews, a co-organizer of the fest, was jubilant with heavy laughs and gasps for the surprisingly funny yet tricky spy thriller.
The ambitious series is led by Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Richard Madden, who play members of a secret global spy agency called Citadel. After a deadly attack, the agency is disbanded, and its elite agents are wiped of their memories. With Citadel out the way, a new powerful syndicate, Manticore, is rising in the void. And it’s now up to former Citadel overlord Bernard Orlick, played by Stanley Tucci, to reform the agency and stop Manticore from establishing a new world order.
Anthony and Joe Russo’s AGBO production outfit created the series for Amazon, and the brothers serve as executive producers alongside Mike Larocca, Angela Russo-Otstot, and Scott Nemes, with David Weil 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, headlined by Chopra Jonas and Madden, Citadel also has local language offshoots in India and Italy.
The opening night screening was introduced by Joe Russo, who is among the primary backers of Sands, alongside Screen Scotland. Shortly after the premiere, Russo spoke with Deadline about the creation of Citadel, working with Amazon head exec Jennifer Salke, and his plan to make Sands an annual pre-Cannes stop on the festival calendar.
DEADLINE: How did the Citadel screening go? And why bring the series here to Sands?
JOE RUSSO: We’re 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 for and a family history with.
DEADLINE: That family history, your daughter graduated from St Andrews?
RUSSO: She did. She graduated a couple of years ago. But subsequently, I had a nephew and two nieces go here. And a very close friend is now sending their children here. So we have a strong connection to the university.
DEADLINE: And what place does cinema occupy here at St Andrews? What’s the goal for Sands?
RUSSO: The ultimate goal for me would be to keep expanding the festival and start including other forms of media. My brother and I are technologists and futurists. We’re interested in what is next. I think there are a lot of creators that are emerging in the social media space 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 that. I’m here to celebrate interesting work that I see. I want to start bringing in emerging voices from all forms of media. Not just in film.
DEADLINE: How much of a commitment to Citadel has Amazon made?
RUSSO: The most important aspect of this project is that Jennifer Salke came to us with a very brave and noble idea, which was, hey, why don’t we tell a story that is rich enough that we can splinter it off into series and other markets where we can find the best artists and storytellers in those regions to tell their own version of the story in their own language. It was an incredible idea. And as guys who spent a long time communicating globally with audiences with Marvel, that idea spoke to us.
We love collaborating with people. We love hearing from different voices. We grow tired of hearing from the same voices over and over. So if we can use our platform and Amazon’s resources, and Jen is willing to use Amazon’s platform to help artists and other regions around the world tell their stories at a scale, we’re all here for it.
DEADLINE: The first two episodes of Citadel were directed by Newton Thomas Sigel. Do you and Anthony get behind the camera at any point?
RUSSO: We certainly could. It’s just a function of scheduling for us. But we’re very invested. I was on set with Tom [Sigel] for most of the shooting he did. Tom’s brilliant. He’s been in the business for a long time and has one of the most incredible resumes. We worked with him on Extraction, which was a difficult shoot. He even functioned as a de facto producer on Extraction because of his experience. Then he worked with us on Cherry. He has the ability to tell big stories and highly experimental stories. We wanted to give him an opportunity to direct because we could see it in him, and he crushed it.
DEADLINE: How did you land on Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Richard Madden?
RUSSO: We met Madden because we loved him in Bodyguard. We sat down with him and joked about the potential for him to play 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’ve got something over here for you. With Priyanka, Citadel is built for international appeal, and very few stars have her pedigree and ability to cross markets. Jen Salke actually recommended her, and we thought it was a fantastic idea.
DEADLINE: Was there a specific moment during your time working on the Marvel projects that influenced your desire to tell cross-cultural stories?
RUSSO: When you work in this business and most of your time is spent in Hollywood, you can be insulated from different points of view. You can have a lack of understanding of how the rest of the world thinks. The global market, without question, is the most significant market moving forward. It’s significant theatrically, and for streamers, it’s where their expansion will come from.
So working with Marvel and that massive publicity machine, we were fortunate enough to travel the world for months on end to promote those movies where you would meet with fans and other filmmakers. We were exposed to new cultures and film industries, where we found relationships that opened up our perspective to global storytelling. As a guy with kids, I’m concerned by the trajectory of the world, and without global connection, we’re in a lot of trouble. So taking from that experience, we have turned our gaze outward towards other markets to try and help platform them in ways that Steven Soderbergh did for us all those years ago.
DEADLINE: With that philosophy, what would the best version of Hollywood look like to you?
RUSSO: Certainly a more diverse version and one that’s more international. Bollywood, for instance, is one of the more significant film businesses in the world but it has extremely minimal exposure 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 learn about other cultures from movies like that. So, I guess, our goal would be empowerment. We want to support other markets as much as possible so their stories can get through in a broader way.
DEADLINE: This is the second year of Sands. What has the experience of running a festival been like? What have you learned?
RUSSO: I love it. The goal should be to expand slightly every 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 town that’s built to support a festival, and it has a lot more infrastructure than what we’re using right now.
DEADLINE: Do you want the festival to evolve into a market?
RUSSO: A market is always helpful in supporting a festival. It’s been helpful to Cannes and other festivals around the world. So I think we could support a market, but it’s about how we can create a market that is forward-thinking. It wouldn’t have to be a huge market but just a compelling market that attracts the right material.
DEADLINE: Will you keep Sands at this date in April?
RUSSO: Yeah, I don’t think we’re going to move it.
DEADLINE: Last year it was earlier, right?
RUSSO: Yes. We intentionally moved it forward this year to get closer to Cannes. And we may move it even a weekend closer next year.
DEADLINE: Why is that? It’s hard to compete against Cannes for films.
RUSSO: It is hard to compete with Cannes, but there’s also always space for some counter-programming. If you look underneath Sundance, there was Slamdance. And if you look at the filmmakers that came out of Slamdance: us, Chris Nolan, Rian Johnson, so pound for pound, you’ve got some filmmakers that have significant impact to come out of that festival. So there’s always a way to counter-program.
DEADLINE: Looking at all the festivals on the calendar right now, is there one template you would like to emulate?
RUSSO: I think South by Southwest is the most forward-thinking festival in the world. I love how it embraces all the different aspects of media and brings them together for a conversation. I’d love to follow a similar trajectory because that’s what a modern festival looks like. We have to start somewhere. But as we slowly expand, I want to include music, video games, and social media content creators to create a hub for people to gather and talk about what’s going on in the arts.