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St. Helena’s Cameo Cinema inspires Ava Doak, 14, to pursue film career

St. Helena’s Cameo Cinema inspires Ava Doak, 14, to pursue film career


Four short films, four awards, and a free three-day trip to the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City last weekend.

Ava Doak’s filmmaking career is off to a strong start — all the more considering she’s only 14 years old.

A resident of Auburn, Doak was inspired to pursue a career in film after participating in the Cameo Cinema’s Family Film Festival of the Napa Valley, where her films took the top prize in her age group for three consecutive years.

She followed up those films with “The Box,” which she entered in the AT&T Youth Voices Collective Film Competition. Despite being shot on a smartphone as required by the contest’s rules, the allegorical short about discrimination and white male privilege represented a leap in technical sophistication.

Still awaiting release by AT&T, “The Box” was one of three winning films from among more than 100 entries, earning her an all-expense-paid trip to the Tribeca Film Festival, plus a 5G smartphone.

“The Cameo’s film festival gave me courage to want to make the films,” Doak said. “They made me feel like my films were important.”

Doak got involved in the Cameo’s Family Film Festival of the Napa Valley (not to be confused with the Napa Valley Film Festival) through her cousin, Andrew Rayner of Angwin. After helping Andrew with his own short films, she started entering her own.

The first, when she was 10, was called “The Emerald,” about a girl who finds a magic gem that gives her good luck but decides to use it on behalf of other people.

Doak wrote, directed, edited and starred in the film, which features green-screen special effects. It won first prize in the elementary category.

Doak’s next film, “Fountain Thieves,” was about three people diving into a fountain and collecting coins. Like “The Emerald,” it had a magical twist and a positive message about selflessness. Also like “The Emerald,” it won first prize in her age group.

Her third entry, “Perfection,” was a horror/techno-thriller about a clothing store with a sinister secret. With themes of materialism, technology and instant gratification, it again won first prize in the middle school category.

“The Box” is only three minutes long and silent, but it’s Doak's most ambitious project yet, with a cast of 18 and a hectic, one-week production cycle. Despite being on the young end of the contest's 13-19 age range, she won.

She said she owes the achievement to the Cameo “for giving me the inspiration to keep going with film.”

While attending Tribeca, she and the other two winners worked on a short documentary about the festival. She also made time to visit some filming locations featured in “In the Heights.”

Doak said she’s also inspired by filmmakers like John Krasinski (“A Quiet Place”), Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “13th”) and especially Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton,” “In the Heights,”), who attended the Tribeca Film Festival a week before she did.

Doak is entering her sophomore year at Placer High School and plans to study film in college. She’s not sure exactly what kind of movies she wants to make, but she’s definitely pursuing film as a career.

“I want to share people’s stories,” she said.

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or

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