Oct. 03--DAVID MARKS KNOWS there are many more films with bigger names, more-dramatic stories and larger budgets showing at the Mill Valley Film Festival than his offering.
But there probably aren't many with as much heart.
The hero of Marks' documentary is a seemingly unlikely one, a cobbler. Except that Misak Pirinjian, the longtime proprietor of Tony's Shoe Service just a few blocks from Mill Valley's downtown square, is no ordinary cobbler.
"He's a special man," says Marks, whose 58-minute documentary, "In the Cobbler's Shoes," will be shown two times at the film festival, which opens today, and once at a special fundraiser. The first showing, Oct. 5, sold out almost immediately. Watch the trailer here.
"I really thought that this was a film for the community," he says.
But he also hopes those who don't know Pirinjian can relate to him.
"He's somebody who represents Old World characters. He is the icon of the cobbler," he says.
The way Marks remembers it, he stopped in Mill Valley -- it's a convenient and attractive spot halfway between his Mendocino home and SFO -- before heading to Europe for a shoot one day some 20 or so years ago. He stumbled upon Tony's Shoe Service and decided to get his shoes shined.
After introducing himself, "he immediately called me, 'Oh, it's David the Lionhearted' and it was such an affectionate name that I noticed that this man was special," he says. "I continued to go there, not just because of his good work, but because, like many of his clients, to see him and say hello. And we became friends."
Over the years, Marks would often join him behind the counter if the line weaved outside the door, as it often does.
"There were no thoughts to do a film back then; it was just my instinct to help a friend who was busy," he says.
But two years ago, the documentary world changed and there wasn't money available for the kind of work Marks had been doing. It seemed like it was a good time to make a documentary about his good-natured friend.
"What was amazing was the reaction from people when they heard it was being made; 'It's overdue,' and 'How come nobody's ever made this film before?'" he says.
It was an entirely new experience for Marks, whose work on films such as "Jimi Hendrix: The Man they Made God" and "Coronation: In the Kingdom of Tonga," often for the BBC, have typically been scripted and heavily researched.
And, he admits, making a happy documentary is a lot harder.
"You don't have dramatic tension, and there isn't a dark secret that I'm going to expose about this
seemingly happy man. It's just the opposite; you're only going to find out more things about why he's happy," Marks says.
While the documentary touches on sides of Pirinjian that even some of his longtime customers may not know -- he was a star soccer player at the University of San Francisco, where he played for legendary coach Steve Negoesco, and was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2001, and that he has a degree in law but quickly abandoned the idea of being an attorney -- that was not Marks' focus.
"I really wanted to show what it's like to be in the shop," he says.
The cramped shop in which Pirinjian, 59, spends a good part of his day -- he does most of his shoe repair at a workshop in the Terra Linda home he shares with his wife and three daughters -- created its own challenges for Marks. There was no room for his typical three-person crew, so he did all the filming and sound himself. Squeezing into the piles of luggage, handbags and shoes that dominate the shop, Marks tried to be as inconspicuous as possible.
"I would say to Misak, 'You can just ignore me,' and he would say, 'Well, that's easy,'" Marks says with a laugh. "Because he ignored me, and he has such a powerful presence, the people who came in the shop ignored me, too."
Pirinjian hasn't seen the documentary yet; he wanted to wait for opening day. And while he admits it will feel overwhelming to see his life on the big screen, he isn't too worried about who's putting his story up there.
"My fate is in his hands, but what better hands can it be?" Pirinjian says. "I trust him."
The film starts with Pirinjian talking about the importance of shoes. But it becomes clear in Marks' film that it's about much more than just shoes.
"I have never seen the kind of affection and intimacy that people have with him, and I think people, like myself, go for more than just shoes," he says. "His patience is infectious, and I think people feel better when they come out of the shop."
Vicki Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her on Twitter at @OMGchronicles, fan her on Facebook at Vicki-Larson-OMG-Chronicles
(c)2013 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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