Filmmaker, advocate Joe Piazzo dies

Colleagues praise his efforts with Schenectady Film Commission
Joe Piazzo speaks on Nov. 6 at the opening of the Izetta Jewel exhibit at miSci in Schenectady.
Joe Piazzo speaks on Nov. 6 at the opening of the Izetta Jewel exhibit at miSci in Schenectady.

SCHENECTADY — Joe Piazzo is being recalled as a tireless advocate for his craft and his adopted hometown, after dying suddenly on Saturday.

The filmmaker had lived for more than a decade in Schenectady, where he became a community activist and was a member of the Schenectady Film Commission.

Most of his career was focused on film and video, but much of his attention was focused on community improvement, through organizations such as Better Neighborhoods Inc., the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, H.O.M.E.S. and Butterfly Wings. 

Earlier this year, Piazzo launched an effort to convert a former tour bus into Green Streets Mobile Grocery, a roving market that would visit Schenectady neighborhoods where there were limited food-shopping options.

A celebration of his life will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 5, at Renaissance Hall, 820 Eastern Ave.

On Tuesday, a longtime colleague recalled years of working with Piazzo and said he was shocked by the loss.

“I couldn’t believe it; I thought maybe their facts weren’t right,” said Zebulon Schmidt, program manager at Open Stage Media, the operator of Schenectady-area public-access television. “He seemed perfectly healthy — he had a meeting right before that. He always had a lot of energy.”

Schmidt worked with Piazzo on the Film Commission, as well as on public-access TV. He recalled hiring Piazzo, who was then working in Massachusetts, more than a decade ago for the Schenectady Access Cable Council

“He [had] just an amazing ability to create things with his hands — just random objects,” Schmidt added. “I don’t even know where he got all those skills. He created a film dolly just right in front of me with things that were laying around the studio. He was able to do things under-budget, he had all that skill and knowledge.”

Another member of the Schenectady Film Commission, Rick D’Errico, gave Piazzo a lot of credit for helping create the commission and for the work it did.

“I believe he was really the driving force behind forming a commission to increase filming in the city of Schenectady,” D’Errico said. “He just knew how to bring people together.”

He added: “It’s Schenectady’s loss, and I don’t say that lightly. You need that point person to make things happen.”

D’Errico scrolled through his inbox Tuesday and found one email Piazzo sent just four days before his death, discussing ways the Film Commission might combine state incentive programs to increase the likelihood production companies would choose to work here.

Friends said Piazzo was devoted to the film/video medium from an early age, starting with the movies he made in his backyard at age 10. He formed Womynkind Productions with longtime business and life partner Nancy Hulse, and later, upon moving to Schenectady in 2004, formed CineDv productions.

But he was known beyond professional circles for his work in the community.

“He was very altruistic like that,” Schmidt said. “He did a lot of volunteering, throughout all the years I knew him. He had a lot of heart.”

D’Errico said: “He was a good guy. Just on the personal side of things, he was a very friendly guy.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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