Mill Valley Film Fest Gives Tamalpais Student an Encore

The 27th annual Mill Valley Film Festival opened Thursday, bringing with it more than 150 films and videos created by luminaries of the film world and locals alike.

One local with luminary leanings is Tamalpais High School senior Joe Shapiro, whose short documentary “It Takes a Village” is featured alongside films by David O. Russell (“I H Huckabees”) and Antoine Fuqua (“Lightning In a Bottle”).

At 17, Shapiro is one of the festival’s initiated. Last year, his short about a young man’s existential quandaries, “Chasing Myself,” was screened. This year’s entry is an affectionate portrait of Mill Valley record store Village Music and its proprietor, John Goddard.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” says Shapiro, an outgoing, inquisitive young man. “I mean just to think that I was in my room at 3 o’clock in the morning editing this film. I never thought that it would get the recognition of being in the Mill Valley Film Festival. It’s just a crazy idea because that’s an international festival, and I’m just a kid in Mill Valley. I never thought that would happen, but it’s happened twice now and it’s pretty surreal.”

Shapiro directed and edited “It Takes a Village” with help from his classmate collaborators Chi Ho, who managed the project, and writer Zoe Cooper- Caroselli. Narration was supplied by Kyle Carlson. An avid music fan, Shapiro had no trouble choosing his subject.

“I’m in a band myself and really into music,” says the filmmaker (he plays guitar and occasionally sings for his act, the Citrus Circus). “Village Music is definitely my favorite business in Mill Valley because it keeps the old vibe that I know once was Mill Valley but really isn’t there any more.”

Shapiro’s documentary was created under the aegis of Tamalpais High School’s Academy of Integrated Humanities and New Media (AIM), a two-year program that teaches 11th- and 12th-grade students academic, professional and technological skills through multimedia projects.

“We were assigned to do a documentary on a business in Mill Valley and to look at how the business shaped Mill Valley and how Mill Valley sort of shaped the business,” recalls Shapiro, who shot the film on digital video and edited it on home editing software.

“The goal was to see how local businesses reflected the values of the community,” says Tamalpais High School media instructor Michael Goldstein, who oversees the program with his colleagues David Tarpinian, an English teacher, and Sharilyn Scharf, a social studies teacher. “What we ended up with were 14 or 15 different student films. We showed them all, selected the best, then submitted them to the Mill Valley Film Festival.”

Goddard, a veteran subject of many documentary projects, was impressed by the young film crew’s professionalism.

“They were a lot more professional than a lot of the adults I’ve worked with. I’m very happy with how they handled it all,” says Goddard, who adds wryly, “I’ve done about 20 or 30 of these things throughout the years and the filmmakers invariably promise to send me a copy when they’re done, but these guys were the first to do it without me having to follow up on it. They scored a lot of points with me on that. I’m very happy with it.”

Meanwhile, Shapiro is mulling some important life choices — one of which is whether to pursue filmmaking professionally.

“I’m a senior so I have to decide where I’m going to college — I have to decide ‘film school, or not film school,’ ” muses Shapiro. “I’ve been thinking that film school might be too limiting. I still want to get a normal education, but a friend of mine sort of woke me up the other day and said, ‘Dude, you should go to a film school.’ I realized, maybe he’s right.”

The insight of his contemporaries notwithstanding, Shapiro also has received encouragement from his instructors and others in the community.

“Over the years, I’ve gotten better and better with each film and I’ve been hearing from teachers that I’m good at this and one of the best film students they’ve had. It sort of makes me think I should be pursuing it,” Shapiro says.

The Mill Valley Film Festival likewise has a long tradition of supporting young filmmakers. Tomorrow it hosts “Script to Screen: Young Filmmakers’ Workshop,” a program for kids who have a yen to direct. Shapiro’s film is presented as part of a program titled “Barbie, Frankenstein and Friends,” a showcase of works by young filmmakers that screens Oct. 16.

“I’m really glad they have that whole section for shorts and younger filmmakers. It motivates us and lets us know that what we do can be seen and appreciated by the rest of the world,” says the director, who is working on a DVD “yearbook” with his AIM program classmates.

“I’d encourage other younger kids to take advantage of what’s out there nowadays, because you can make a movie so easily,” Shapiro says. “Even less than 10 years back, buying, exposing and editing film was expensive. But now that we can work with digital video and use digital editing programs, it’s not that expensive. It should open it up for so many people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to do it.”

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One response to “Mill Valley Film Fest Gives Tamalpais Student an Encore”

  1. I wonder if the young director (Joe Shapiro) decided to attend film school after all – although I'm more curious as to what he's doing now.

    Does a genuine talent like Joe Shapiro actually have any sort of an edge in the film industry? Or are such skills relatively meaningless in a world where blind luck & random timing can determine almost anything?

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