By Emilie Murphy
Portrait Photography by ChiChi Ubiña
Husband-wife duo Joe Capozzi and Angelique Letizia started their careers in film as a hobby. After working in New York’s theater world, Letizia began to consider ways to write and produce her own works. She enrolled in New York Film Academy, and incorporated their production company, Starr Films, along the way. With a lot of grit and determination, the company gained momentum. “Pretty much every year, we did a film,” explains Letizia. “We once did ‘two weeks, five shorts’ where we shot five shorts in two weeks, which we don’t recommend anyone do,” she says with a laugh. They went from shorts to feature films and eventually branched out into brand marketing and content creation, focusing on helping small businesses gain visibility. Though Starr Films is a boutique operation, the company’s capabilities are wide-ranging.
A Peloton of One
One of their recent feature films, a documentary entitled A Peloton of One, was included in the 2020 Greenwich International Film Festival (GIFF) and awarded the J.P. Morgan Chase Audience Award. The film, which began as a project in 2017, follows Childhood Sexual Abuse survivor Dave Ohlmuller on a cycling journey from Chicago, Illinois to New Jersey. The idea was formed after Ohlmuller, who grew up near Capozzi in New Jersey, had come forward with allegations of sexual abuse suffered at the hands of a Catholic priest. Capozzi, also a survivor of sexual abuse, had come to know Ohlmuller through a survivor’s network. “He went through a similar situation to me,” explains Capozzi. “I wanted to reach out to help him in terms of one survivor to another.” Ohlmuller was living in Chicago at the time and was motivated to raise awareness around the issue of Childhood Sexual Abuse. He decided he would bike from Chicago to his former hometown of Montclair, New Jersey, a journey of 700 miles. Along the way, he met with survivors, lawyers, community activists, senators, and many others to discuss Childhood Sexual Abuse and draw attention to the devastating issue.
Winning this award from GIFF was a turning point for the couple. “It’s what a small documentary on a tough subject needed at this time,” says Capozzi. “The fact that they were so open and embraced it just speaks volumes about the festival organizers — who they are as people and what they’re doing for independent film.” Most stories about sexual abuse or violence are rarely embraced at public festivals and events. For A Peloton of One, the goal was never fanfare or awards, but inspiring other victims to come forward with their own stories, and spreading awareness around the many obstacles — both legal and personal — that survivors face when speaking out. The Audience Award only furthers this goal.
The Future of Film
With the uncertainty around the pandemic, Letizia and Capozzi were especially grateful to GIFF for their support. “They were the first festival to go virtual. They did such an amazing job. They cared for the filmmakers and wanted to make it happen,” says Capozzi. GIFF was able to pivot quickly despite quarantine constrictions. With almost all of the entertainment sector moving online, they created a virtual festival along with artist Q&A’s across Zoom and even a virtual awards ceremony. “They really respect the independent filmmaker,” says Letizia. “Independent filmmaking is difficult, it takes a lot of time and is hard for people to get behind.”
The unknowns of the moment are not just changing GIFF, but the entire entertainment industry, and the affects could be long-lasting. With so much transitioning from big screen theaters to people’s homes, filmmakers are facing a litany of difficulties. “It was hard before Covid,” says Letizia. “A lot of film companies were having trouble getting theaters filled. I think after this, there will be paranoia about being in theaters. That will be for a while, and so virtual is going to stay.”
Despite the new trend of at-home entertainment, Letizia and Capozzi still prefer the in-person experience. “We’ve done a lot of theater in the city and there’s nothing like being in a room with a live audience,” says Capozzi. Letizia agrees. “Even in a movie theater when everyone is reacting to a piece in the same way, there’s nothing like that,” she explains. “That’s what makes art so spectacular, it brings people together in a way that you can’t virtually.”
The Resiliency of Creatives
Although most production is stalled at the moment, including other Starr films that were in development, Letizia and Capozzi remain optimistic about the future of their craft. In the meantime, they are busy with several other projects. “I have a Sci-Fi novel that comes out at the end of the year,” says Letizia. She has also adapted the novel, entitled Blackout, into a television series. The pilot for the series was shown at the Austin Film Festival, and made it to the competition’s second round. In fact, stay-at-home restrictions have been beneficial in certain ways. “Quarantine has allowed me to focus on writing,” says Letizia. “The goal after the book comes out is to start development on the TV series.”
The couple are representative of how many artists have reacted to lockdown. “Artists have always found a way through the darkness,” says Letizia. “I think that’s what makes creatives so amazing. It’s this resilience and adaptability. We don’t really let it keep us down.” They are both looking forward to what might emerge from the current period of isolation and how art might capture this unique moment in time. “I think that’s the cool thing that will come out of this; seeing what creativity is sparked,” says Capozzi.
Although their outlook is hopeful, they also acknowledge what is missed out on when human connection is lost. The small spark that can launch an entire idea might be more difficult to conjure at the moment, but whatever triggers inspiration, it will certainly be a reflection of the time. “People will come up with different ways to make art happen; some traditional, some nontraditional,” says Letizia. And however people approach quarantine, however artists capture the moment, I, for one, am looking forward to seeing the result.