At a pair of screenings at the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival next month, a man known to thousands of Mill Valley and southern Marin residents will get his 58 minutes of fame.
But longtime customers and friends of Misak Pirinjian, the owner of the renowned Tony's Shoe Repair in downtown Mill Valley, know the man is not exactly seeking celebrity status.
“I’m either going to be crawling under the chair or standing up and cheering – I don’t know,” Pirinjian says of the debut of In the Cobbler's Shoes, filmmaker David Marks' documentary about Pirinjian and his "pure, unadulterated love" for his craft. Pirinjian hasn't yet seen the film.
"It’s very exciting and a little overwhelming,” Pirinjian adds. "I’m sure it will be very intimidating to see my face up on that huge screen in the theater. But I’ll take it all with a grain of salt and enjoy the moment.”
Marks, who has produced popular BBC documentary films like Nazi Gold and Jimi Hendrix: The Man They Made God, decided in early 2012 to turn his lens on his longtime friend Pirinjian and the near cult-status his shop has garnered over the years. He kicked off fundraising campaigns through the San Francisco Film Society and on Indiegogo.com, and continues to raise money to cover his costs.
The film begins and ends with both aerial shots of Mill Valley as well as street-level views of feet on the ground throughout downtown. But the lion's share of the 58-minute film is set inside Pirinjian's tiny shop at 38 Corte Madera Ave., with hundreds of shoes piled all over the place and beaming customers streaming in and out throughout the day.
They come to get their shoes repaired – Pirinjian says "there’s nothing better than a well-worn shoe with a great shine" in praise of reusing versus replacing – but they leave with much more than a pair of renewed loafers.
Throughout his customer interactions, Pirinjian weaves in the sort of back-and-forth that can only be found at a business that is steeped in its community. From passing out dog treats and belt advice to his latest thoughts on pro soccer and cold remedies, In the Cobbler's Shoes shows off a man who is far more than his job title.
Those interactions dominate the film, with Marks making a "fly-on-the-wall" film in which he knows, quite literally, "exactly where I am in the room in every shot."
“The best films, especially documentaries, are character-driven, and if anything Misak is very much a character,” Marks says. “People are fascinated by so much about Misak – his kindness, his craftsmanship and how he’s able to find the right shoes in all those piles – but the interaction between him and his customers is what I think is most interesting.”
Pirinjian grew up in Tel Aviv and moved to Marin with his family in 1969. The original Tony of Tony's Shoe Repair founded the business in 1950 and died in 1963. Pirinjian’s father bought the business from an interim “Tony” in 1970, and after years of helping his father, Pirinjian took over in 1985. He's married with three daughters and lives in Terra Linda.
Rather than simply a light-hearted look at a great local character, Marks sought to use Pirinjian’s “old world” traits to provoke audiences to think about values like hard work and fairness in an era of excess.
"The number of people who do good work at reasonable prices is dwindling," Pirinjian says in the film.
Marks, who grew up in New York and now lives in Mendocino, met Pirinjian for the first time nearly 20 years ago as a customer and the two have remained friends. Marks began his filmmaking career after a 10-year stint practicing Chinese medicine in Mendocino. He did some work for PBS’ Frontline and eventually hooked up with the BBC, where he became an in-house producer.
His 1997 BBC film Nazi Gold looked at Switzerland's wartime actions and its roles as a banker and financial broker for Nazi Germany, while the Hendrix doc charted the rise and fall of the guitar god. The Hendrix film screened at the Mill Valley Film Festival in 1999, with Pirinjian hosting an opening party for it at Tony’s.
The 411: In the Cobbler's Shoes screens Oct. 5 at 12 p.m. and Oct. 11 at 12:45 p.m. at the Cinearts at Sequoia Theatre. Click here for tickets and more info. The Oct. 5 screening will be preceded by a benefit brunch at Illumigarden.
The Mill Valley Film Festival is set for Oct. 3-13 in theaters throughout Marin. Check out Patch's MVFF36 coverage at the links below and stay tuned for more.