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Joe Mulherin poses back home in Foxboro with two of the trophies he won during the Cannes Film Festival in France. (Staff photo by Fank Mortimer.)

FOXBORO - Joe Mulherin often strikes a severe pose in his photos and rap music videos.

Nor did he grin with pride when photographed receiving four awards this month at the 66th annual Cannes Film Festival in France.

Still, you don't have to dig deep to learn that the 21-year-old filmmaker from Foxboro fits no stereotypes of the angry young artist.

Far from being an iconoclastic lyricist, scriptwriter, cinematographer and director, Mulherin is unabashed in his desire to apply his talents to build a better world.

That starts with the respect he shows for others - and for himself.

Since his freshman year at Foxboro High School, Mulherin has embraced a "straight edge" ethos - no tobacco, no alcohol, no street drugs and a vegan diet.

"It's just a philosophy rooted in sobriety," he said.

"It works for me. I wouldn't judge someone for living a different lifestyle. It just works for me."

"Once upon a time, doing drugs and drinking was the counterculture. That was the rebellion against the mainstream, I guess," he said.

A tattoo he wears on his right calf shows two crossed skateboards bordered by the words, "Skate Mean Live Clean."

He went to Cannes with The Creative Mind Group, a Hollywood-based organization whose stated mission is to "find the next generation of talented film and TV professionals and usher them into the entertainment industry."

At Cannes, Creative Mind Group ran a film-making contest that drew 17 entries involving the efforts of more than 200 participants.

The assignment was to create a five-minute film in four days of work.

Mulherin wrote, shot, directed and co-edited a piece called "One Day," dramatizing a day in the life of a rich filmmaker in Cannes who encounters - and ultimately helps - a homeless former photographer.

"One Day" won Creative Mind Group's Best Picture, Best Script, Best Editing and Best Actor awards.

"It's kind of a heartwarming piece," he said. "At the base of everything, we're all fundamentally equal, regardless of how you're doing in the monetary situation."

It's a familiar theme for Mulherin.

He wears a dark hood and stands in front of a brick, time-battered former Foxboro State Hospital building in his rap video titled "Realms," but the lyrics speak of equality.

There's sunshine even in the name of the record label he formed, Midday Records.

And while eager as any other artist to make his original mark, he is open in his reverence for one of humankind's most settled guideposts: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Asked if he believes that his values may hold him back in the film industry, he said "Yes," but that he also believes he can only succeed by living up to his values.

"I want to go far in the industry, and gain some recognition for my craft - in a way that I can remain true to my morals."

"I like film that has something to say, but also maintains a healthy narrative structure to keep the viewer engaged," he said. "It's expression, but it's also a means of entertainment. This is why people go to movies, why they go to concerts.

"So if you have an opportunity to put something of your values in this, make sure you also are entertaining and engaging - otherwise, yeah, the message is there, but who's going to see it? It's not a lecture, it's a journey."

Mulherin said he enjoyed the two weeks he spend in Cannes, but that the glitz and glitter was "a culture shock."

After flying home to Foxboro on Memorial Day, he said he immediately took a refreshing walk in the Blue Hills.

"I had to rinse off the yachts and the Lamborghinis," he joked.

Mulherin, the son of Paula and Ed Mulherin, of Shoreline Drive, started making videos at age 12.

Paula, a registered nurse, said Joe did not take to the typical classroom structure and schedule, and that even though it was sometime "extremely taxing" to get him out of bed in the morning before school, she always knew he had talents and motivation of his own, and would "do well."

"It was very hard for him to sit in a classroom," she said.

But he carved out his niche.

At FHS, Mulherin said, he picked up many skills in two years of computer-based design courses taught by Gerald Roy, who has since retired.

"If anything, CBAD strengthened my love for the arts," he said of Roy's courses.

For a time, he edited and anchored a high school news program that aired on Foxboro Cable Access.

While at FHS, he made a video honoring long-time substitute teacher Gabriel Trost, and created the senior video, titled "The Final Cut," for the Class of 2011. A DVD of the piece was presented to his classmates with their yearbook.

Mulherin created online video advertisements for Ben & Jerry's and other companies through a paid internship while attending Burlington College in Vermont, where he studied film.

While there, he made an 11-minute film, "Watcher," which won the 24-hour "film slam" (making a film in one-day) at the Vermont International Film Festival.

"Watcher explores the mass media's desensitizing effect on the human psyche through a TV-obsessed character who is unable to comprehend human emotion in the real world," he wrote in a synopsis of that piece.

In late July, he plans to move to Los Angeles, where he will be interning for Cartoon Network on a show called "The Annoying Orange," and earning a bachelor of fine arts degree at the L.A. campus of the New York Film Academy.

In the meantime, he plans to join up with some of his old Foxboro Skate Park buddies, like Paul Osborne, a 2009 FHS grad, to make a video in support of the recent effort to save the park. Osborne completed a bachelor's degree in Graphic Design this year at Plymouth State University.

Mulherin said he met most of his best friends while skateboarding there as a kid.

Asked his career goal, Mulherin, who attended Igo Elementary School, Ahern Middle School and the high school gives an elegantly elementary reply:

"I want to create art that promotes substantive changes. I want the world to be a better place because I existed."

His films can be found at: josephmulherin.com.

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