Chris Vognar of the Dallas Morning News has really become a champion of WOLF. He loved it from the moment he saw it and has been talking it up ever since. Thanks so much Chris. Take a look at his article below. I couldn’t get the link to work, so I just copied and pasted it. Enjoy!
Ya’Ke Smith returned to his old church with a tough request. A film professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, he needed a place of worship to shoot his first feature, Wolf. And he had reason to be nervous: His film, which shows this week at the Dallas International Film Festival, is about a sex abuse scandal that rocks a family’s faith and turns them against the bishop they once revered.
Administrators at the New Creation Christian Fellowship Church, in Smith’s hometown of San Antonio, were hesitant. As so many news stories have shown the past few years, it’s easier to sweep sexual abuse under the rug than weed it out of the pulpit. It didn’t help that sexual allegations against Georgia bishop Eddie Long were all over the news.
But when Smith got through to his bishop, David Michael Copeland, he received the good word.
“He basically said whatever you need, you can have,” Smith recalled. “He stood up in church one Sunday and said, ‘I don’t have an issue with anything Ya’Ke is shooting. What he’s doing is going to be powerful. Although it may be controversial, it’s going to help people.’”
Smith hopes that’s the case. It’s why he made the film in the first place.
He credits the church for helping him escape the projects of east San Antonio and guiding him toward his passion for film. But he’s also smart enough to know no one is without sin.
“I love the black church, but growing up there I saw the good and the bad,” he says. “That was my whole point in making this film. In order for us to change, we have to see. We have to face, and a lot of times we don’t want to face. We’d rather be silent about some issues. But if you see this on the screen, you can’t be silent anymore.”
Now a lean, energetic 31, Smith exudes a sense of purpose. That’s admirable, but it wouldn’t mean much without this: Wolf is the calling card of someone destined to make a great film.
You can sense it in the intensity of the performances, from 16-year-old Jordan Cooper, who plays Carl, the emotionally tormented abuse victim, to 76-year-old Dallas theater and film veteran Irma P. Hall, who plays Carl’s grandmother. “If there’s one thing I don’t tolerate, it’s lazy acting,” Smith told the audience at Wolf’s world premiere last month at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin.
“I enjoyed working with him because he knew what he wanted,” says Hall by phone. “He wanted his characters to be real, and to show whatever the emotion called for at the time, whether it was happiness or confusion. I had a lot of confidence in him.”
You can also see Smith’s talent it in searing, isolated images. The predatory bishop, played by Eugene Lee, kneels alone in his pulpit, looks out at the pews and sees a smattering of the children he has victimized over the years. It’s a blood-curdling, Shakespearean moment that drew gasps last month from that same SXSW audience.
Shot in 15 days in the San Antonio area, Wolf is a little rough around the edges. But only a little. With many festival films, you watch and endure the long rough patches. With Wolf, you mostly just think about the promise within.
Which doesn’t make it an easy sell. The subject matter is tough for any audience. Then factor in the marketplace challenges of any black film that portrays the church community as potentially threatening. Wolf is about as far away from the Tyler Perry money-printing factory as a movie can get.
“My mother probably wouldn’t want to see it,” says Dallas International Film Festival artistic director James Faust. “The black community holds the church really near and dear as a sacred place of protection and worship. To say that this actually happens is an affront to the belief that this doesn’t happen. In this world where black filmmakers aren’t often given leeway to do these kinds of films because you have to adhere to the possibility of making money, he’s taking a risk, and I’m glad he took it.”
Smith is well aware that Wolf won’t be breaking box-office records. “I have a friend in LA who’s always saying I need to write something more commercial, and then make these passion projects,” he says. “But for me, film is more than just entertainment. It’s life-changing. I knew going in this would be a tough sell, because nobody really wants to face this.”
That sense of personal mission rubs off on Smith’s students, many of whom interned on Wolf and Smith’s short films, according to Bart Weiss, who teaches film with Smith at UTA.
“He’s not making films about zombies and hit men that just have references to stuff on TV,” Weiss says. “His films have true emotional impact. That makes students think to look inside of them for stories that have a deeper sense of resonance.”
The stories that hit closest to home can be the hardest to tell. As Smith discovered, sometimes it takes a leap of faith.
SO EXCITED to announce that WOLF took home Best Texas Feature at the Dallas International Film Festival. This being my first feature, I was genuinely shocked and honored to have received the award. I thank every crew member, the phenomenal cast and everyone who has supported this project along the way. This was truly a community effort and I owe you all BIG!!
Chris Vognar of the Dallas Morning News said in his review/article: “You can also see Smith’s talent in searing, isolated images. The predatory bishop, played by Eugene Lee, kneels alone in his pulpit, looks out at the pews and sees a smattering of the children he has victimized over the years. It’s a blood-curdling, Shakespearean moment that drew gasps…”
Stay tuned, because there’s so much more to come!!
Just the headline alone is surreal! I’m so honored that the Shadow and Act team dug the work. They can be hard…LOL.
This review is amazing. Thanks Tambay! So glad you saw the film. Dug the film. And reviewed the film. Here’s a snippet of what he said:
“Director Smith attacks the film’s themes with an unflinching, non-exploitative honesty; it’s raw, gritty, tragic, but also oddly beautiful material, thanks in part to cinematographer Yuta Yamaguchi’s striking visual work here, director Smith’s visual metaphors (especially how he chose to represent the ideas suggested by the film’s title – as in, a wolf in sheep’s clothing), and the vulnerability the actors, we could say, celebrate in their wonderful performances.”
I also want to say that I am a huge Spike Lee fan and having my name mentioned in the same sentence as his is truly an honor. Haven’t seen Red Hook, don’t know how good it is, but Spike has influenced my work from the beginning. His past work was bold, daring and timely…so I’ll leave it at that.
Every reviewer didn’t dig every frame or every story point, but they were all immensely affected by the film, evident in what they wrote. Check out some snippets and click on the links to read the reviews in their entirety.
“The cinematic punch in the gut I so desperately needed before leaving SXSW and Austin, TX tomorrow morning,Ya’ke Smith’s feature film directorial debut Wolf is an audacious, potent drama that will likely elicit extreme reactions from viewers when it’s eventually in general release – reactions that will undoubtedly lead to fiery discussion centered around the central themes the film tackles.”
–Tambay Obenson, Indiewire: Shadow and Act
” Beautifully shot and heavy with incredible, intense performances, Wolf is a triumphant narrative, absolutely harrowing, and unflinching even at its most uncomfortable moments. Even the secondary performances, such as Carl’s grandmother (Hall), are so perfectly cast and bring their best until you are unable to look away from the screen. The film’s script is tight and fraught with tension, particularly during the religiously poignant moments— a heartwrenching scene of Jaymund struggling to come to terms with his son’s situation by asking if it could be punishment from God for his own infidelities is one example, and it is difficult to watch Nona’s unwavering and unrelenting love for her son war with her innate desire to do the right thing and bring his molester to light.”
–Amanda Rebholz, Planet Fury
“Writer/director Ya’Ke Smith has created a powerful drama about molestation in “Wolf,” which had its SXSW premiere Sunday night at a packed screening room at the Long Center.”
–Charles Ealy, Austin 360
Director Ya’Ke Smith’s first feature length film, “Wolf,” unflinchingly tackles the subject of sexual abuse of a teen by his local bishop. While any movie with similar subject matter as “Wolf” can ofttimes be heavy handed in its morality, I found that Smith has done a fine job of showing a sense of restraint and kept his film grounded in a tight sense of reality. Never once do the characters feel over the top or appear as caricatures. Cooper especially does a great job as the lead, showing a nice depth of emotion that captures both his guilt at what happened but also the complex empathy he feels for a man who has clearly done wrong.
–Noah Hill, Film Threat
“Ya’Ke Smith’s film, Wolf, picks up where Lee’s film went off the rails for good in taking a hot-button social issue and putting the humanity back where it needs to be – with the victims and their family.”
–Erik Childress, eFilmCritic
“Directed by University of Texas at Arlington film professor and San Antonio native Ya’Ke Smith, Wolf is an assured first feature loaded with performances of sustained intensity.”
–Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News
A family is shaken to the core when they discover their son has been molested. As they struggle to deal with the betrayal, their son heads towards a total mental collapse because of his love for his abuser, while his abuser attempts to exorcise his own past demons. The film stars Irma P. Hall (THE LADYKILLERS, COLLATERAL), Eugene Lee (LACKAWANNA BLUES, COACH CARTER) and newcomers Mikala Gibson, Shelton Jolivette and Jordan Cooper.
All photos courtesy of Melendrez Entertainment.
Panavision Best Texas Feature Film Award, Dallas International Film Festival
Arkansas-Times Audience Choice Award, Little Rock Film Festival
Audience Choice Award: Best Narrative Feature, Sidewalk Film Festival
Saatchi & Saatchi Producer’s Award, Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival
Honorable Mention: Best Narrative Feature, Urbanworld Film Festival
Special Jury Recognition, Best Director – First Feature, Pan African Film and Arts Festival
Nominee: Louis Black Award, SXSW Film Festival
SXSW Film Festival
Dallas International Film Festival
Little Rock Film Festival
Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival
Oakland Underground Film Festival
Alabama Sidewalk Film Festival
Black Harvest Film Festival
New York Latino International Film Festival
New Orleans Film Festival
Rhode Island International Film Festival
Reel Independent Film Festival
Urbanworld Film Festival
Cinesol Film Festival
Montreal International Black Film Festival
Our Image Film and Arts Festival
The Pan African Film and Arts Festival
ReelBlack Film Series
The WNY Black Film Festival
Available for download via iTunes. CLICK HERE to download.
THE BIRTH OF A WOLF
A few summers ago I came across the documentary, Deliver us from Evil, which chronicles the story of a pedophile clergy-man and the numerous children he abused. Towards the end of the film one of the victim’s father stated “I made up my mind. There is no GOD: and this coming from a man who had devoted his entire life to his religion. Growing up in church and being a firm believer in God, this statement shocked and intrigued me. I immediately started to think about all the people that I knew personally who had been abused (not just sexually) by the church and how many left because they too, no longer “believed.” They had spent so much time idolizing their leaders, making them their gods, and thus pushing GOD to the side. Their inability to separate the two left them scarred, angry and feeling abandoned. But who is responsible for this: them for forgetting the basis of what they believed or the church for perverting their belief by covering up abuse and creating God-like figures out of its leaders?
Before the ending credits finished rolling, I was already on the net doing research on sexual abuse. I came across a chat room for men who were molested as children. Some by family members, others by friends and a good majority by someone in their church: all in all they knew their abusers, loved them and even idolized them. The men on this site never told anyone before signing into the forum, and were only comfortable telling their stories because of the anonymity of the site. Some of the men became abusers. Some became alienated from society. Majority never fully healed from the psychological trauma. Their words haunted me. A haunting that drove me to my journal, where I wrote the outline for what would become the screenplay, Wolf.
Writing this film was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I’m not one to shy away from hot topics, but this one is such a sensitive, and very timely, issue that I wanted to make sure that I approached it with grace, not judgment. This film is not meant to criticize all churches, nor is it meant to dismiss Christianity as some faux religion where all people are preyed upon. My hope for the film is that it will shed light on the vicious cycle of sexual abuse so that victims can understand that they’re not alone and step out of the shadows of silence that have kept them bound.
“…insists upon nuances of feeling in a story that would, in most films, ignore them.”
-Ebony Magazine Online
“If you still believe in the power of film, watch WOLF.”
-Film Slate Magazine
“Ya’Ke Smith’s feature film directorial debut WOLF will likely elicit extreme reactions from viewers when it’s eventually in general release”
-Indiewire: Shadow and Act
-The Chicago Sun-Times
“…a compelling and powerful work…”
-The San Antonio Express-News
“WOLF is an assured first feature loaded with performances of sustained intensity.”
-The Dallas Morning News
“The unbridled realism is what gives WOLF its gut-wrenching power. WOLF is definitely not an easy (or enjoyable) film to watch, but it is a film that truly deserves to be watched by everyone.”
-Smells Like Screen Spirit
“WOLF manages to strike harsh notes with astonishing grace.”
-The Austin Chronicle
” Beautifully shot and heavy with incredible, intense performances, WOLF is a triumphant narrative, absolutely harrowing.”
“Writer/director Ya’Ke Smith has created a powerful drama about molestation in WOLF.
“Ya’Ke Smith’s film, WOLF, picks up where Lee’s film went off the rails for good in taking a hot-button social issue and putting the humanity back where it needs to be – with the victims and their family.”
“…powerful, distinct sound design and cinematography…impressive performances by the ensemble cast.”
“…one of the best films of the SXSW Film Festival this year…an emotional powerhouse.”
-The Movie Critic
“WOLF is executed with great sincerity and is an important film. The actors do a fine job portraying a painful range of emotions, and Smith’s direction is solid”
Nicely written Olivia Flores. Beautiful review…makes me want to see this movie! It’s funny that you used the word “Blowjob” in the newspaper. I love it!
Here’s a snippet: “The sense of abandonment and betrayal is palpable as the boy watches his mother stumble away, his innocence and hope both lost in the same moment.”