A Cinematic Slice of Life

By Vincent Reda ’74 ~ Photos courtesy of David Shapiro

Untitled Pizza Movie on a plain white pizza box

In 1995, under the guise of producing a TV series, two lifelong friends set out to find NYC’s perfect slice — and to eat for free. As the two filmed at pizzerias across all five boroughs, they captured a changing city — a chronicle they preserved on videotape. More than two decades later, what they recorded is being celebrated at film festivals and premieres across the country and is being called a “valentine” to a lost city, namely, a pre-gentrified New York.

An exploration of the fault lines of friendship, memory and filmmaking, Untitled Pizza Movie (UPM) — is a documentary film series written and directed by David Shapiro ’85, a part-time faculty member of Art and Art History. The film made its New York City premiere at the prestigious Metrograph theater in late February 2021 and its first three installments premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it took home the “Best DocuSeries” award.

Shapiro and Atkinson stand out side a pizza shop with a microphone.
David Shapiro & Leeds Atkinson filming in New York City, 1994. Watch the trailer

“Through the prism of pizza, the film tells a story of self-invention and friendship, set in the early 1990s,” said Shapiro, who filmed alongside his friend Leeds Atkinson.

They recorded interviews with pizzaman Andrew Bellucci, whose Lombardi’s Pizzeria had become the toast of the highbrow New York food world. Shortly after, however, Bellucci was exposed as a Wall Street criminal wanted by the FBI.  Shapiro and Atkinson follow the story, filming Bellucci from his restaurant to his cell block. Soon after, Shapiro and Atkinson abandoned the enterprise. Shapiro put the film in storage. The old friends drifted apart.

Shapiro and Bellucci stand inside store with full glass front and red lit sign that reas Untitled Pizza Movie
Director Shapiro with Bellucci in New York City, 2021.

Twenty years later, after hearing that Leeds had died under mysterious circumstances, Shapiro began to piece together their lost footage, setting out, as he says, “on a road trip of memory” to discover what happened to both Bellucci and Atkinson. A triple portrait of three men and three American families, the work was shot across three continents and more than 30 years.

Man tosses pizza dough in the air in front of camera in Butu Caves of Malaysia
Shapiro, Director of Photography Jonathan Kovel and Bellucci film in the Batu Caves of Malaysia.

Shapiro’s other works include the award-winning documentaries Missing People (2016) and Keep the River on Your Right (2001), which won the prestigious Independent Spirit Award and made the Academy Award shortlist for an Oscar. He also earned a 2010 Emmy Award nomination for his work on Finishing Heaven for HBO. His visual art has been exhibited at MoMA, the Tate, the Norton, the Brooklyn Museum and UAlbany’s University Art Museum. Missing People was screened at the Writers Institute Film Series in 2016.

Filming of two glowing towers in the distance
Shapiro, Bellucci and Production Supervisor Karena Chong at the Petronas Towers in Malaysia.

At UAlbany, Shapiro teaches both grad and undergrad studio art and film studies courses, with what he calls “a hands-on approach.” He has made collaborative films with several of his grad students.


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