Meet the Award-Winning Black Filmmaker Bringing His Skills to Austin

Austin has grown into a hub for independent film. With a vibrant, supportive film community, it’s a great place for new filmmakers to get their start in the industry.

Texas has potential to become as booming as Georgia, rightfully named the Hollywood of the South, for Black filmmaking if it can retain and attract more Black talent.

soulciti talked to one of Austin’s newest resident’s, Ya’Ke Smith, an award-winning filmmaker and, starting in the Fall, a film professor at the University of Texas, about how he got into film, his perspective on the state of Black filmmaking, and his new web series.

When Boyz n the Hood Came Out

Smith grew up loving and watching movies. From poetry to plays to news to films, he’s always had a knack for storytelling. When he was 11 years old, Boyz n the Hood came out, and that film would impact his life until this day.

It was the first time he’d seen a film that truthfully portrayed Black people who lived that life. It wasn’t a caricature of Black life written from the eyes of a White person but a real story.

It inspired him to want to tell stories that affect an audience’s thinking and change the choices people make for the better.

Wolf: The Film that Premiered at SXSW

Smith has won awards and screened films at some major festivals, including Cannes, The American Black Film Festival, Pan African, SXSW, Austin Film Festival, HBO Showtime, Amazon, and more. However, the film he is proudest of is Wolf.

Wolf, which premiered at SXSW in 2012, tackles child molestation and the struggle within the Black community around the idea of keeping such atrocities quiet and in the home.

I love what filmmakers like Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins, Ryan Coogler and others are doing

Smith was most struck by how much the film started a conversation about sexual abuse and elicited a powerful response from spectators who had similar experiences themselves.

Being a Black Filmmaker and the State of Black Film

Smith is hopeful about the growth of Black film, but he feels there is still a long road ahead. “I love what filmmakers like Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins, Ryan Coogler and others are doing, but there is still not enough filmmakers of color being given the opportunity to be seen in the mainstream.”

He stated that sometimes White producers and distributors and networks who’ve not experienced black lives up close and personal often try to tell Black filmmakers how to tell their those stories. He wants to see the Black community coming together to support and fund these types of films to get our own authentic stories told, the right way.

Just do it, and be fearless about doing it.

He also feels there needs to be more “gatekeepers” of color like studio heads, producers and showrunners in order for more authentic stories of contemporary black life to make it to the big and small screen.

Despite the many challenges, his advice to aspiring filmmakers is to “just do it, and be fearless about doing it. Be passionate, and study and learn your craft. Embrace whatever kind of stories you want to tell, and don’t let anyone convince you that you shouldn’t tell what you want to tell.”

Joining the Austin Film Scene

Smith is excited to join the Austin community and bring some great projects to the area. He’s jumped in head-first serving as a panelist at the soulciti and Capital City Black Film Festival’s bSCENE screening of “Detroit” last month.

Smith’s newest project, a web series called The Beginning and Ending of Everything tells the story of a woman who’s recently gotten out of prison and now is on a quest to find her baby, keep her life afloat and stay the straight and narrow.

Smith wanted to do a project that would touch on the real struggles people recently released from prison face when trying to start a new life. See all the episodes on Facebook now, and learn more about the talented Ya’Ke Smith.

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