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Tony De Nonno's Account of making "It's All in My Hands"

This account is taken from an email Tony DeNonno sent to Folkstreams director Tom Davenport on October 18, 2010.

It’s All in My Hands was selected as my Film II class’s closing film at the year ending screening. It was also showcased as the second to last film in the annual “Senior Class’s Final Film Showcase" — this I recall ticked a lot of seniors— for here was a young upstart sophomore invading the seniors' sacred final film domain. The film received a standing ovation and that irked some seniors even more.

It's All in My Hands cost me $ 800, which was monumental to me at the time. Fourteen years later, I remember boasting with amusement that I had finally broke even-- when Finnish TV acquired the rights to broadcast It's All in My Hands six times over a 2 year period -- and paid me exactly $ 800.

Right from the get-go It's All in My Hands received considerable acclaim. Michael Racanelli, director of the Vocational Division of the New York City Department of Educations called it "An impressive personalized film on working.” Dr. Paul Patane', Trustee of the School Art League said "it awakens young people to the dignity of working with their hands.”

Joan Eskenaski of the National Career Counseling and Resource Center cited the film in a review calling it "A film of feeling and quality...” a great vocational guidance film." Her review inspired librarians across New York State to acquire 16MM prints for their film collection.

The NYC Department of Educational and New York City, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester County and Brooklyn Public Library systems also brought numerous 16 MM prints to distribute to schools and libraries across New York City and state. Sam Klein the owner of “Cat’s Paw,” the nationwide manufacturer who supplied soles and heals to shoemakers across America was deeply moved by the film. He purchase twenty prints of It’s All in My Hands and in the summer of 1971 while I was still in college, gave me an all expenses paid trip to their Annual Shoe Manufactures Convention held at the classic and elegant Palmer House in Chicago.

On a giant screen in the main banquet hall they screened It’s All in My Hands. I felt like I was at the Oscars, I was given a standing ovation and asked to say a few words about making the film afterwards, which I did proudly with enthusiasm. It was one of the most memorable and unforgettable moments of my budding filmmaking career. Needless to say all of the above truly inspired me to become a documentary filmmaker.

I was so passionate about telling John Prince’s (actually Principe’s) story for I felt that society at large at the time needed to really value and appreciate the values and contributions of these “salt of the earth” shopkeepers and artisans in America. It inspired me to follow this film, with my classic PBS documentary Part of Your Loving, about an Italian American Baker in Brooklyn-- so that society at large could meet these treasured individuals who were so valued and respected in their community— individuals with a wisdom, pride and devotion like young shoemaker John Prince, Baker Ben Togati, tailors like Tilda and Aaron Gurwitz, all dedicated to serve their neighbors with quality and care.

There was one unforgettable moment, while I was making the film, which symbolized my commitment and passion-- a moment I will never forget. Unfortunately since my assignment was to tell a story without using any sync sound, I did not have a Nagra (tape recorder) on hand to record the following moment for posterity. One afternoon an Orthopedic Surgeon entered John shoe shop a little annoyed and expressed his displeasure to John for not following his instructions to construct-- the almost knee high shoe mounted brace that is captured in a few scene in It’s All in My Hands. John was around 22 at most and the surgeon was at least two decades his senior. John listened patiently and then began showing the surgeon in a kind and respectful way, that if he followed his design instructions the child would have difficulty walking properly with his feet stepping forward evenly and naturally. John illustrated very clearly to the surgeon the specific location where the top of the brace and supporting armature must be placed which would insure that both of the child’s feet would be even and that it would enable him to walk evenly and effortlessly. Wow! Needless to say the surgeon and I too were impressed. He thanked John before leaving and that was at the heart and essence of the story I wanted to tell about John Prince-- and especially my philosophy and devotion as a documentary filmmaker-- to capture the wisdom, talent and abilities of ordinary people like you and me.

At the heart of what I do as a filmmaker, as this film attests, is to mine the essence and core of the individual(s) I am focusing upon, and reveal something about him or her, which touches a chord in all of us. I see myself as a storyteller and I love to shine my filmmaker’s eye on the often unspoken and unrecognized “Salt of the Earth” individuals of this world – whose daily lives I feel are sublime and whose essence, heart, soul and wisdom for living are truly inspirational to us all. I am especially determined to honor the legacy and dignity of Italian Americans as well as the heritage and traditions of culturally-diverse people of our great nation.

-- Tony De Nonno

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