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Filmmaker Shines Light on the Inimitable Misak the Cobbler

Documentary filmmaker looks to raise money for nonprofit film project about his longtime friend Misak Pirinjian, owner of the renowned Tony’s Shoe Repair.

David Marks has produced some of the BBC's most popular documentary films.

And if you catch him on the right day, he’s also a part-time shoe shiner and utility helper for one of the most beloved businesses in town.

Marks, whose filmmaking credits include Nazi Gold and Jimi Hendrix: The Man They Made God, is now turning his lens towards , owner of the renowned on Corte Madera Avenue. He’s currently raising money for the nonprofit film project and he hopes to finish the documentary, tentatively titled In the Cobbler's Shoes, by October.

In making the film, Marks hopes to shine a light on his longtime friend Pirinjian and the near cult-status his shop has garnered over the years, with beaming customers seemingly unperturbed that their shoes need repair because it gives them a reason to chat with the inimitable Misak.

“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.”

“I don’t plan to interfere but just set up in the shop and capture some of the magic that goes on in there," Marks adds.

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 hopes 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 sense of profit and how little work we can do to make as much money as possible seems to be the ethic that the world has taken,” Marks says. “If you look at how we deal with each other and with material things and you look at what goes in Misak’s shop, it gets you thinking. If fair business was everybody’s motto, no matter what type of business, it would be a better planet. There is a sense of profitability that has gone way beyond our survival needs.”

Marks doesn’t envision expressing those themes overtly in the film but as more of an underlying notion that gets people to think of their own way of relating to their work.

He expects to film for about two months and he’s already installed some new lighting in the shop as well as some floor mats to make it more comfortable for the always-on-his-feet Pirinjian.

Marks, who grew up in New York and now lives in Mendocino, met Pirinjian for the first time nearly 18 years ago as a customer. The two have remained friends and Marks often jumps behind the counter to assist Pirinjian during busy times.

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.

Marks hopes to begin filming soon and is looking for donors to help him launch the project. He envisions a total budget of approximately $60,000. Donations are tax deductible through the San Francisco Film Society on Indiegogo.com.

BG November 21, 2012 at 12:10 AM
I took my daughter to Tony's to see if Misak could fix her little purse that had been broken. When I asked Misak if this fell into his area of expertise, he said "no, but the elves upstairs are great at fixing these kinds of things". He then turned to my 5 year old daughter, looked her right in the eye and said "I'll tell you what we'll do. I'll leave two chocolate chip cookies and your purse right here on the counter when I leave tonight. When I come back tomorrow, the purse will be fixed, you'll see." Her eyes were huge and I couldn't help but thank him for the magic he just made for my girl. He is one of a kind! Thanks for making this movie.
Anne Tique November 21, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Years ago, when my daughters were small, they were with me when I took my husband's work shoes into "Tony's" to be repaired. My two-yr-old had her doll with her, the one with the stitching coming loose on an arm. We put the shoes and the doll down on the counter. Misak said, "The shoes you will have to come back for in a couple days. The doll I will fix right now, because I know how important she is to you." I fell in love on the spot.

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