Jack Brook: A Film Festival’s Favorite Fifteen-Year-Old
by Claire Liu
Published October 9, 2012
A matte black lens zooms in and out, swiftly and strategically turning in all directions. The camera captures film directors, the modern environment at Palo Alto’s Talenthouse and the fascinated expressions of Palo Alto International Film Festival spectators.
Behind the camera is Palo Alto High School sophomore, Jack Brook.
Brook is an aspiring teenage filmmaker, who is described as a “creative storyteller” with “organic passion” by his mother. He has always enjoyed writing, watching good movies, and creating humorous videos for his classes. In recent years, a curiosity for more sophisticated film-making, yet another medium for him to channel his creative energy, began to develop.
While taking video production courses at Palo Alto High School with Ron Williamson, Brook’s skill and grasp of film-making concepts began quickly strengthening.
“Jack is a very creative kid whose work is not only comprehensive, but often above and beyond what is asked for,” Williamson said. “He is someone who is genuinely interested in the subject of film, not just a student looking to complete an assignment and pass the class.” Brook is a “true risk-taker” and very familiar with conceptual techniques, allowing him to “experiment with film at higher and more sophisticated levels,” Williamson added.
By taking initiative, proving his deep interest and maintaining consistent work ethic, Brook has landed himself a gig in which he is quickly advancing his filmmaking skills.
After a summer spent on the Palo Alto International Film Festival’s Youth Jury, watching and selecting youth films for the event, Brook decided to dive deeper with community film opportunities. After contacting PAIFF staff, he was given the opportunity to continue his participation during the actual festival.
On the last day of the PAIFF, Brook is swamped with events and interviews to film.
Around his neck, Brook wears an official “PRESS” badge dangling off a cloth lanyard. This gives him full access to all events — VIP parties and movie showings. He totes around two large black bags, containing the video camera and tripod lent to him through an internship with the Media Center. In exchange for equipment, Jack will share all his PAIFF footage with the Media Center.
“I’ve learned to keep an open mind and think about the future,” Brook says. “I choose opportunities that interest me but will actually teach me about the industry. I’m hoping that after this I’ll still be able to stay involved, maybe even get an internship with the organization.”
The film festival provides Brook not only inside access, but also helpful connections and the chance to explore advanced filmmaking.
“I get to film interviews and behind the scenes pieces,” Brook says. “I’m meeting incredible people.”
Just two days prior, Brook grabbed Dennis Muren, winner of eight Visual Effects Oscar awards and the special effects artist of ET, to ask a few questions for his behind the scenes interview. This was during the PAIFF’s 30th anniversary showing of ET.
“Crazy things like that teach me good interviewing skills and how to maintain calm even when talking to these famous people,” Brook says, as he leads the way from the Aquarius Theatre to Talenthouse on High Street.
Talenthouse, an employment agency for up-and-coming artists of all kinds, is hosting a PAIFF talk that is open to the public. Seated up front is a panel of film industry professionals: Josh Stern, the director of “Jobs” (a film on Steve Jobs) and San Francisco film commissioners. They discuss the concepts of the film and the reasoning behind filming in the Bay Area.
While the crowd listens and the filmmakers speak, Brook, the only teenager in the building, begins his work. He unzips his bags, sets up his camera and prepares his tripod to begin filming. His eyes wander back and forth, taking in the scene and considering all his options. Brook looks to a flat area, a modern design cut into the walls that rests almost as high as the ceiling.
“I’m thinking I should set my Go-Pro camera up there,” Brook says. “I’ll be able to film the whole scene from up top. This talk will eventually end, and then I’ll capture the next, and the one after that. Then, there will be a party that I’ll be able to film too.”
His ideas don’t stop there.
Brook spots Brian Knappenberger, director of “We Are Legion: The Story of The Hacktivists”, a film shown the previous evening.
“I’m going to try and interview him,” Brook says, quickly gathering his equipment. “Hopefully he’ll say yes. That’d be pretty cool.”
Moments later, Brook and Knappenberger are socializing in front of Talenthouse. Brook moves the camera and hands him a microphone. Brook asks Knappenberger questions, even gently guiding him during the interview. One could say Brook is directing a director, and successfully doing so. “Thanks for the interview, I hope you have a great rest of the film festival,” Brook says to Knappenberger as they wrap up
Brook packs his equipment and prepares to head out, when a woman rushes over.
“You should stay for another 25 minutes,” she says. “Does that work for you? We want you to interview the panel when this event is over.”
Brook accepts this duty and quickly rushes out to tell his grandma to pick him up later.
“Participating with the festival can be pretty stressful because it’s time consuming and I really want to do a good job with what they ask of me,” Brook says. “But I know it’s worth it. I get the chance to work with a film event in a community that celebrates science and innovation. I really feel like I’m in the right place at the right time. I want this to be a big part of my life for the next few years.”
An adult volunteer turns and grins.
“When Jack went to get his camera and tripod, I told that director [Brian Knappenberger], ‘This kid is just the nicest boy ever,’” she says. “Isn’t he so creative? He is too sweet. The teens this year are so refreshing and professional. I’m totally impressed.”
PAIFF staff member, Alf Seccombe, says the festival hopes to accelerate efforts in the democratization of film, for the world and for specifically young people. They carry this goal out by providing activities for local teenagers, the jury and press team — both of which Brook participates in.
“Youth are the filmmakers of the future,” Seccombe says, looking toward Brook. “They are uninhibited and take risks. They are the ones who dare to challenge art. Therefore, they are the ones who truly define it.”
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