The journey from a downtown L.A. warehouse to a ballroom near D.C. with 1,000 applauding people is an unlikely one for a junior screenwriting major. Winning a national award for producing a short film just makes it more exceptional.
Andrew James Levay made that trip, ending at the National Italian American Foundation’s gala on Oct. 31, 2022, as one of three finalists for the Russo Brothers’ Film Forum Award. During the gala, it was announced that the film he produced with Catharine Dada, a senior lecturer in theatre arts in the LMU College of Communication and Fine Arts, had won.
“It was awesome,” said Levay, a student in the LMU School of Film and Television. “I was very impressed by the whole occasion, especially the Russo brothers.” Anthony and Joseph Russo, who sponsor the award, are directors, producers, and screenwriters of four films in the Marvel series, including the Captain America and Avengers films. The award celebrates films that contribute to celebrating and exploring the Italian American experience. The Russos were unable to attend the gala because they are working on their next movie, but they sent a video message.
Levay and Dada together produced “Leaving the Factory,” a 26-minute film written and directed by Alessia Crucitelli, a Santa Monica College film production student. The film was a class project for Crucitelli, Levay, and Dada, who said they “are incredibly grateful to SMC for helping us to make this film.”
“It wasn’t until later,” said Dada, “when we were on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at 2 a.m., that it finally sank in that we’d actually won.”
“Leaving the Factory” intimately tells the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, when 146 people died, mostly women and mostly Italian immigrants and Italian Americans, in a workplace catastrophe that led to many landmark regulations and spurred the union movement. So intimate is the story, in fact, the film’s characters’ names are taken from the rolls of deceased.
To produce the film in December 2021, Levay and Dada found a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles that served as the main setting. A second location in San Pedro was an old, quirky, not-at-all updated Edwardian house that was used as the home of the main character, Marina. The movie was shot over 10 days, including cleanup, and used many LMU actors, including six alumni and eight theatre arts undergraduates.
In addition to the foundation screening, the film is scheduled to be shown at the Ethos Festival at the Laemmle Theater in Santa Monica on Nov. 11 and again on Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 4:30 p.m. in Ahmanson Auditorium in University Hall, followed by a Q&A panel. There will be a reception afterward.