A UT-Arlington professor has made one of the most talked about movies playing at this year’s Dallas International Film Festival. And critics and audiences are connecting with the story’s unflinching look at a difficult subject.
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Ya’Ke Smith doesn’t hold anything back in Wolf, his first feature film. Issues of race, sex and religion all find their way into this story of a teenage boy who has an inappropriate relationship with the bishop of his church and the family’s struggle to deal with the fallout.
It’s a film that’s packed with intense, emotionally charged scenes. Here, the boy’s father confronts the bishop about the relationship as the family looks on:
James Faust, the artistic director of the Dallas International Film Festival, picked the movie for this year’s program.
FAUST: “Spike Lee doesn’t do movies about child molestation. T.D. Jakes is not going to do a movie about something like this happening in the church. It’s just something that I think the black community holds really dear and near as a sacred place of protection and worship.”
Smith also wrote the screenplay for Wolf. It’s a story he knows well. He spent much of his childhood in and around church in San Antonio. And he says he knew kids who had been molested inside and outside of other churches.
But Smith doesn’t have it out for organized religion.
SMITH: “I hope that people who not only are in church but who maybe who have left the church will see this film and will be able to maybe come back. Will be able to see a reflection of themselves – see the hurt they’ve gone through or the hurt that they’ve inflicted on others and want to go back and have reconciliation. That was my whole point of making this film.”
Wolf was shot in 15 days and debuted at South by Southwest in Austin last month. The reviewers raved.
Indiewire, an influential website that covers independent film, wrote that, “Smith attacks the film’s themes with an unflinching, non-exploitative honesty; it’s raw, gritty, tragic, but also oddly beautiful material.”
But it was the reactions of everyday audience members that Smith remembers most.
SMITH: “I had people come up to me after the screening, hug me in tears, telling me, ‘Thank you for telling my story. Thank you for putting this on screen, because this is something that we need to talk about. And that for me means more than anything else.”
When Smith isn’t making movies, he’s teaching others how to make them. He teaches screenwriting, directing and other classes at UT-Arlington.
It’s a long way from his rough experience growing up in the projects and seeing the affects of drug use and gang violence firsthand. But Smith actually credits that childhood for putting him where he is today.
SMITH: “I think God put that drive in me. A drive to know that you’re here, because you have to live this in order to comment on it. But this is not where you are supposed to ultimately end up.”
Wolf screens tonight at 10:15 p.m. at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas.