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Arts & Culture

San Antonio Film Duo Heads to Cannes

San Antonio ex-pat filmmaker Ya’Ke Smith is looking to the future, with a new feature film in pre-production. “Wolf” is about a family that’s rocked by the sexual abuse of their son by their church pastor.  At the same time, Smith and his producing partner, Ralph Lopez, are also celebrating the fact that Smith’s short film, “Katrina’s Son,” is playing at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. That’s right, THAT Cannes Film Festival, where discriminating Gallic audiences brush elbows with Hollywood’s finest on the wind-swept, sun-kissed southern coast of France.

“Katrina’s Son” follows a young boy who goes looking for his mother in San Antonio after his grandmother and caretaker dies in New Orleans. From her postcards, the boy is led to believe his mother is doing well and setting up a new home for the family in the Alamo City. When he finally finds her, however, she’s strung out and practically denies his existence. 

Ya’Ke Smith says he read scores of stories about the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, but ultimately drew from his own childhood experiences to create his film.

“My aunt was an addict, my sister was an addict, my mom was an addict at one time… and so I saw how drugs basically tore families apart,” Smith says.

The protagonist wasn’t always a young boy, but Smith changed that part of his original script after considering how the stories of children affected by Katrina’s aftermath weren’t being told enough.

“They’re the ones that have to search for [family] or try to build a life from nothing,” Smith explains.  “And kids don’t necessarily know how to do that.”

Smith’s films often deal with a character searching for a connection to someone else.  Besides “Katrina’s Son,” “Hope’s War” is about a war veteran returning home, struggling to adjust to a new life, and “The Second Coming” is about a father, freshly released from prison, finding his son caught up in the same criminal ways that put him in jail.

“We all feel lost at some point in our lives,” Smith notes. “It’s not intentional, but it always sort of finds itself into my narrative.”

“Katrina’s Son” is the second short film Ya’Ke Smith directed that’s been accepted to screen at Cannes.  A few years ago, “Hope’s War” was also selected to screen at the festival.  Smith’s production partner, Ralph Lopez, says going to Cannes was “probably the best seven days of my life,” but both he and Smith are staying home this year to complete pre-production on “Wolf.”

Asked if he feels the sensitive subject matter of “Wolf” may offend some in the close-knit black church community, Smith says he’s not worried. 

“It’s not just the black church, it’s the church, period,” Smith says.  “No one is an evil character in the film,” he notes.  “But because we haven’t spoken about [sexual abuse], it’s a cycle that will continue.  I’m a Christian. [“Wolf”] is not an attack on the church, but it is an attack on the secrecy and the deceit that I feel has pushed so many people away [from the church].”

Smith says a San Antonio screening of “Katrina’s Son” is in the works.  The film is also eligible for an Academy Award nomination.