News & Events

Ya’Ke Smith Scores Critical Nod with Short Film

A short film by Ya’Ke Smith, a tenure-track assistant professor in the film program in the Department of Art and Art History, has been nominated for two awards at the Martha's Vineyard African-American Film Festival next month.

“Katrina’s Son,” a short film Smith finished earlier this year, has been nominated for the HBO Short award and the Saatchi & Saatchi Nothing is Impossible Film Award. It’s another in a long line of accolades for Smith, whose films have received worldwide acclaim, screening and awards at more than 40 film festivals, including The Cannes International Film Festival and The American Black Film Festival. His films have also been screened on HBO, Showtime and BET J.

“Ya’Ke’s films have compelling stories that take an unvarnished look at today’s issues,” said Robert Hower, chairman of the Department of Art + Art History  “He has a very bright future in the film industry, and we are excited about what he will bring to students in our film program.”

As founder and CEO of Exodus Filmworks, Smith spends much of his time outside of the classroom writing and producing films. He’s apt to focus on the social perspective of any story and encourages his film students to do the same.

“I always make films on those subjects that hit my heart,” Smith said. “And the moment [Hurricane Katrina] happened, I was interested. This was something I felt like had to be dealt with.”

“Katrina’s Son” tells the story of a young boy from New Orleans searching for his estranged mother in San Antonio. Smith said he’s written a full-length feature script, but felt a short film showing the tone of the work would help him raise the capital he needs to make his movie. He’s hopeful the critical recognition he’s received for the short film will underscore how his artistic vision can sell at the theater box office.

“You have to be commercially appealing in someway,” Smith said. “That’s the only way your film is going to be seen. But you have to figure out a way to commercially appealing without selling your soul.”

As a film teacher, Smith said his biggest challenge is helping his students find their voice.

“Everyone wants to make the college comedy; everyone wants to make zombie films,” he said. “A lot of people come in and want to replicate their favorite filmmaker. … What I do is strip them of all of that and tell them to look at themselves and ask why are you making these films? At the end of 10 or 15 minutes of watching this film, what do you want me to get up and walk away with? The films that stand the test of time … are those films that mean something. You walked away and know you had an experience.”

Get more information or see a trailer for “Katrina’s Son” at