News & Events

Ya’Ke Smith’s Recent Film Review

On July 19, 2010 The Moving Arts Film Journal released a review by Eric M. Armstrong on Ya'Ke Smith's recent film "Katrina's Son."

Brilliant, vivid colors flood the opening moments of Ya’Ke Smith’s latest short film, “Katrina’s Son.”  A bright yellow sun bathes a young boy in a beautiful warmth —  a superficial warmth obscured by the coldness of death, abandonment.  Ed, a young New Orleans resident quietly mourns the death of his grandmother and only guardian in the wake of the worst natural disaster in American history.  Now he is alone, completely.

Hurricane Katrina brought far-reaching devastation to the American South, making scenes like the one above commonplace.  Hundreds were killed, even more left homeless.  But as the violent storm eventually dissipated so did coverage from the cyclical modern news machine.  Not much is said anymore about Katrina or its still destructive after effects.  Ya’Ke’s film aims, not to rectify the increasingly business-centric nature of news reporting, but to offer another point of view — to add dimension, nuance and humanity to something not much more than a thirty second news package to the rest of the country.

Confronted with his newfound orphanhood, Ed catches a bus to San Antonio hoping to reunite with his estranged mother, the only family he has left.  Having been abandoned by his mother at a young age, the woman who gave him life is no more than a mental construct, an idea in his young mind scantily fleshed out by a postcard here or there.  Yet, this idea, this hope for connection, the fundamental human need to be loved drives him to his unknown mother’s doorstep.

“Katrina’s Son” is not overtly political, but strong themes of socio-economic injustice and alarming inequality raging throughout a constitutionally egalitarian nation dominate the subtext.  The country’s dark underbelly of perpetuating poverty and institutionalized racial inequality exposed during the chaos of Katrina have been all but forgotten by those more fortunate.

But Ed has no reference point.  He isn’t concerned with the larger issues of society.  For all he knows there is no other way of life.  And it is that precious innocence that is the driving force behind the entire narrative.  When he first arrives in San Antonio he asks for directions to the place featured on one of the postcards from his mother.  It is a picture of the Alamo.  In Ed’s world this makes perfect sense.  Why would the photograph on the note from his mother be of anything other than where she lives?  And in that sequence beginning with his disappointment upon arriving at the old landmark, and concluding with him perhaps wishing he would have never found his mother after they finally reunite, there is an unforgettable sense of innocence lost.  It is powerful.

Ya’Ke’s measured and intelligent direction is complemented nicely by Yuta Yamaguchi’s vivid, eye-catching cinematography.  But neither would have the desired effect without a star to carry the film.  Luckily, Herman Whitney III who plays the intrepid Ed is a revelation.  Children are notoriously bad actors, especially when tasked with emotionally demanding material.  But Whitney handles the part like a pro.  His perfectly understated performance carries real weight and his more vulnerable moments feel completely natural.  This kid is a real find.

In a world where an irreverent mélange of visual effects, gimmickry and fanboy pandering is considered filmmaking, it is exciting to see real ambition, honesty and the search for truth thrust back to the forefront.

For more information about “Katrina’s Son” visit the official website.