Magazine Feature / People

For graduate student, film is an advocacy tool

While most aspiring filmmakers tend to consider themselves movie buffs, Joe Brown, a first-year graduate student studying filmmaking, says he’s never been well versed in pop culture.

“I never even saw Home Alone,” jokes Brown, who studied philosophy and history as an undergraduate at the University of Colorado.

Then again, calling Brown an aspiring filmmaker would be ignoring the fact that his first film, National Sacrifice Zone: Colorado and the Cost of Energy Independence, has been screened at several film festivals and now is part of the Wild and Scenic Film Festival’s national tour.

“I’m really interested in the power of documentaries to address social issues,” says Brown, whose concern about oil and gas drilling in Colorado prompted him to begin exploring film.

With established success and natural leadership, Brown stands out among his classmates, according to Sheila Schroeder, assistant professor of mass communications.

“He brings a really wonderful critical understanding and questioning to the table that we don’t necessarily see from everyone,” Schroeder says. “Most students are not submitting their work to festivals, but Joe understands the importance of getting your work out to the public.”

Educating the public on environmental issues motivates Brown, who chairs the Colorado Environmental Film Festival and has been commissioned by Denver Urban Gardens to make a documentary about the benefits of growing your own food and being part of a community.

Brown’s courses, however, have also compelled him to branch out in terms of subject matter and explore sub-culture in Denver. The film Fast Girls, Slow Bikes: The Story of Denver’s Mods ’n Knockers — which Brown made with several classmates — documents the lives of women who, based on their mutual love of classic Vespa and Lambretta scooters, formed the all-girls gang the Mods ’n Knockers.

To balance film studies with what he considers more practical skills, Brown also is working toward a degree in library science. After graduation, he plans on pursuing either a doctorate in mass communications and cultural studies or a master’s of fine arts in film.

But don’t expect Brown’s talent and ambition to lead to Hollywood, because both qualities stem from his belief that what makes film valuable to society is its ability to promote and effect change. And, at the end of the day, Brown wants nothing more from his film career than the opportunity to make “films about social issues and get them shown to as many people as possible with the hope they will lead to some discussion and help change something.”

Brown’s documentary, Fast Girls, Slow Bikes: The Story of Denver’s Mods ’n Knockers — which he made in collaboration with Daniel Sauve, Ericha Hager, and Adam Schwartz — will premiere June 3 at the DU film/video showcase. The event will feature work by 18 graduate and undergraduate students on various forms of sub-culture in Denver. The event begins at 6 p.m. at the Cable Center and advanced registration is required. For more information or to register for the event, visit or call 303–871–3976.

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