'Pizza! The Movie' is a terrific tale of the industry

April 20, 2006
cult of pizza.

That's what you'll find in "Pizza! The Movie," a documentary about the pizza industry filmed and produced by Michael Dorian and Joe Dos Santos.

As New Yorkers, the two men were well acquainted with pizza's position in the Big Apple food chain, but

according to Dorian, neither expected that passion extended nationwide. The pair ultimately found themselves willingly sucked into America's pizza culture in their work to record it. Along the way they found numerous gems: eccentric pizza operators, a street musician singing his own song about pizza, a controversial pizza acrobatic contest, and endless triple-espresso-strong opinions about what constitutes good pizza.


"Making this movie was the single-most amazing experience of my life," said Dorian, co-owner of Cat Price Productions in New York. "The people I met completely surpassed my expectations of how entertaining and passionate they are for what they do."

When he began filming in 2004, Dorian said numerous people told him, "'You're going to love this industry,' and they were right. (Pizza makers) are a funny bunch. So many people were warm and receptive and willing to play along. I ended up with 300 hours of footage, and the hardest part was figuring out who to include."

Dorian now is working to get the 93-minute final product shown at about three dozen of America's 1,500 independent film festivals. The goal is to have a film distributor buy the rights to it, show it at theaters and eventually reproduce it for DVD sales.

Film documentary heaven

"Pizza!" provides an in-depth look at the industry by addressing its history both in America and Italy. Cat Price visited Naples to film a few Italian pizzaioli in the city where commercial pizza got its start. Appropriately, however, more attention is focused on American pizza pioneers who turned the humble pie into a $33 billion-dollar industry. From aging pizza greats like Domenic De Marco, owner of Di Fara's Pizza in Brooklyn, to Frank Carney, co-founder of Pizza Hut (and now a Papa John's franchisee), seemingly everyone gets to present their takes on pizza.

As a documentary, the movie is occasionally politically incorrect, but only in entertaining ways. In a segment on Di Fara's, a patron states unashamedly why she believes De Marco is her favorite pizzaiolo.

"I'm Jewish, but I'm not kosher. But he makes the best pizza," says the unidentified septuagenarian. Commenting on the fact that Di Fara's is in a Jewish neighborhood, she adds, "A Jewish person don't know how to make pizza. You gotta be Italian. Alright?"

Peter Reinhart, an award-winning baker and culinary instructor at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, N.C., waxes poetic about pizza that came to the U.S. in the 19th Century and the growing revival of that Old World style of cooking.

"Because of this yearning, this hunger for this experience of something on a higher level, artisan pizzerias are reemerging into the mainstream," says Reinhart, also the author of "American Pie: My search for the perfect pizza." The comment makes Carney cackle.

"Of all the paintings there are in the world, how many do you think have been done by artisans, and how many have been done by factories that can put out a pretty damn good painting?" he says. "We're not talking about Leonardo here. We're talking about something that can be delivered to your house 30 minutes after you call."

As Dorian and Dos Santos saw how differently pizza is interpreted in different cities, the two were

What's Important

Cat Price Productions took two years to film and produce "Pizza! The Movie," a terrific tale of the history of the pizza industry and its personalities.

The documentary's director said the movie was made to show the side of the pizza business regular customers don't often see, as well as show the nationwide passion for the humble pie.

The movie is currently being shown in film festivals around the country. Check thepizzamovie.com to see if it's playing in your area. If the movie's rights are purchased, as producers hope, DVD sales will follow.

drawn to street interviews with strangers. From one man's declaration that "It puts me in the mood," to the common, "It doesn't get any better than pizza," the commoner's zeal for pizza is clear and entertaining. While sales of burgers and fried chicken in the U.S. might lead one to think people love them as much as pizza, Dorian said no one he talked to expressed equal devotion for those foods.

Arguably the most exciting part of the movie centers on two pizza acrobatics contests: one held at the New York Pizza Show in 2004; the other at the World Pizza Championships in Salsamaggiore, Italy, in 2005. (Read also Pizza dough duel ends in Big Apple brouhaha and A slice of New York.)

In New York, a heated dispute nearly erupts into fisticuffs when five-time world champion dough-tosser Tony Gemignani is defeated by virtual unknown Juan Hermosillo. An angry Gemignani accuses show operator Steve Green of fixing the contest in retaliation for Gemignani's formation of the World Pizza Champions acrobat team. (Previously, Gemignani was the captain of the United States Pizza Team, which is owned by Green's magazine, Pizza Marketing Quarterly. Gemignani debuted his new team at the New York Pizza Show, and as the film shows, much to Green's chagrin.) The argument over the contest ends with Gemignani being escorted from the Jacob Javits Center, vowing to settle the score in Italy.

Green said Dorian did a fair job representing the conflict accurately.

"It was a good anatomy of what happens in every pizza contest I've sever seen in my life," Green said. "There's always conflict over scores, always people who think the judges are sleeping with somebody and that it wasn't fair.

"But they caught it just as it actually happened, and it's up to anyone to make up their minds and form their own opinions about who won."

Gemignani agreed, but only to a point. Neither side in the dispute was portrayed unfairly, he said, but he wished more of the story could have been told. "There were a lot of things that happened that weren't talked about in the movie, things that happened on the side that were left out, things I thought were important. But let's face it, the movie's called 'Pizza!' not Pizza Acrobats."

Dorian said in 2005 that being at the New York show when the fracas unfolded was like "dying and going to documentary heaven."

"That's what makes documentaries so much fun, because they're real, they're unrehearsed. They're life on film."

Audience opinion

To date, "Pizza!" has played only at the Memphis International Film Festival and to a small audience. Dorian cringed when he saw the slot allotted for his movie: 12 p.m. Sunday, right in the middle of church services in the Bible-belt city.

Still, the 30 viewers of the movie enjoyed it and kept him after the movie for questions and answers. Green said several PMQ staffers came to see the movie (the magazine is headquartered in Oxford, Miss, about an hour away from Memphis), and he thought the non-pizza folk in the audience clearly liked it.

"They seemed to be laughing at the right times, and even at some of the stuff I thought was serious," he said. "I guess it was funny for

Tony Gemignani, a five-time world champion dough acrobat, spins the skins at a Food Network pizza contest in 2005.        Photo courtesy of Michael Dorian.

them since they were seeing it from a different point of view. ... But to me, it was like watching a home movie because I knew so many of the people in the movie."

The movie's next showing is set for April 23 at the Palm Beach (Florida) Film Festival, followed by the Newport Beach Film Festival in California in mid-May. While both are minor festivals that don't rival the attention given Sundance or Cannes, Dorian said both are important for gaining access to industry distributors. And it can't be ignored, he added, that this year's Academy Award-winning Best Picture, "Crash," was discovered at the Newport festival. He expects several folks featured in "Pizza!" including Gemignani, whose company, Pyzano's Pizzeria, is in Castro Valley, a few hours away, to be on hand for the screening.

Trying to put their industry biases aside, both Green and Gemignani think "Pizza!" will entertain general audiences. Despite a lone "f-bomb" dropped during the argument in New York, the film is nearly profanity free, bereft of sex, drugs and violence and approachable by nearly all ages. It's lighthearted entertainment about a subject in which everyone is interested, Green said.

"They did a great job interspersing throughout the movie a lot of colorful characters that are native to this industry," he said. "I've known that about the industry for a long time, but now the public gets a chance to see them and enjoy them."

Editor's note: Despite numerous requests to buy the movie on DVD, Dorian said "Pizza! The Movie" will not be available for resale until picked up by a distributor. To check and see if the movie will be screened at a film festival near you, visit thepizzamovie.com for locations and times. Secondly, the movie is a must-see for anyone in the pizza business. Not only will you be entertained, you'll see just how passionate people are about your product.

Despite numerous requests to buy the movie on DVD, Dorian said "Pizza! The Movie" will not be available for resale until picked up by a distributor. To check and see if the movie will be screened at a film festival near you, visit thepizzamovie.com for locations and times. Secondly,

Topics: Independent Operation , Papa John's

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