Director uses alma mater for scenes in first movie


By Gayle Bustamante


Two University of the Incarnate Word landmarks could play important roles in a graduate’s first, full-length film, “Wolf.”

Film director Ya’Ke Smith returned to his alma mater for three days early this month to shoot scenes for “Wolf,” including the Administration Building and Ila Faye Miller School of Nursing in his footage.

Smith, along with his cast and crew, shot “Wolf” over 15 days, dedicating at least 12 hours a day to the project. When he’s shooting, “I’m in heaven,” he said.

A 2003 communication arts graduate, Smith, an assistant professor at the University of Texas-Arlington, received the Alumni of Distinction award last May at commencement. At 30, he’s the youngest recipient ever for the award.

Smith, a San Antonio native, said he developed an interest in film at a very early age, as he looked up to directors such as Spike Lee (“Malcolm X”), Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”), and Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) for inspiration. Smith shot his first film at age 15 while he was a student at Sam Houston High School.

Although several works have impacted Smith’s career, he said one distinctively holds high rank. The film, “Boyz n the Hood,” directed by John Singleton, played a large role in contributing to his love for movies and holds the position as the turning point in Smith’s decision to direct, he said.

“After I saw that movie I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Smith said. “I wanted to make movies that were real and would make people feel the way I did after watching it.”

“Wolf” focuses on a family facing a battle with their faith after they discover their pastor molested their son. The film focuses on overcoming this type of turmoil and gaining the strength to forgive.

Smith said he conjured the plotline behind “Wolf” after watching the documentary, “Deliver Us From Evil.” He said the script literally wrote itself.

“I’ve known people that have been in this type of situation and I feel it’s important to realize that forgiveness is possible. No matter how much we hurt, we have to figure out how to keep our faith and reconcile with God.”

Smith said the development of “Wolf” coincides with the theme of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He said he believes the pastor in his movie is not the villain but the driving factor in his spirit that led him to perform this vindictive act is.

“I’m not trying to demonize the pastor through my film but raise awareness of how people in these situations should not ignore their problems but work through them,” Smith said.

After 15 years as a filmmaker, Smith said he admits to undergoing several struggles in being involved in this industry. He’s still raising money to finish “Wolf,” using an Internet website to pitch different levels that contributors can be credited in the movie depending on how much they give toward the project.

“There have been so many times when I have wanted to quit. And many times when other people have told me to quit. Making a movie with no money is probably the biggest challenge. Which is what we’re doing right now.”

Despite the severity of obstacles, Smith remains positive and views his struggles as a way to display true creativity.

“When (you’re) on a low budget, you’re able to think outside the box,” Smith said.

At times, writing can be an additional hurdle, he stressed. Scripts go through several editing sessions.  “Wolf” is on its 14th draft. “This job can be very frustrating,” he said.

Regardless of the frustration, Smith believes this is what he is meant to do.

“I wanted to do this not to be famous but because it’s my passion. I can’t do anything else and I don’t want to do anything else.”

For students pursuing a film-making career, Smith said he would advise them to study and carry out their dream because they love it.

“You have to learn your craft and not let anyone discourage you,” said Smith, who’s won a Director’s Guild of America Student Award, an HBO Short film Award and a regional Student Academy Award for his labors.

While “Wolf” has finished filming, Smith said he’s uncertain when a premiere may take place. For now, the plans are to show the movie at different film festivals and see if it makes the cut for the Sundance Film Festival. He’s already a film festival veteran. His latest feature, “Katrina’s Son,” was shown last May at the Cannes Film Festival. “Katrina’s Son” is about a boy’s journey through the streets of San Antonio looking for his mother after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.

Smith said he’s been energized shooting “Wolf,” his first feature film, and feels very blessed to be working with talented actors, a supportive crew, a beautiful city, and his wife, actress Mikala Gibson, who he also met at UIW.

The filmmaker, founder and chief executive officer of Exodus Filmworks, said he does most of his filming in and around San Antonio. He said he holds much reverence for his alma mater and is very appreciative of the administration opening the doors and allowing him the opportunity to use the campus, as he has traveled down memory lane.

“I definitely feel nostalgic being back here and seeing the university expand. This is where I got my real dose of film and I met my wife here. UIW was the foundation where I realized I can really pursue this.”

As a film director, Smith admits winning an Academy Award is a goal he would like to accomplish, but he would be happy if he were able to make at least one movie a year.

“I want longevity. I just want to make movies that are going to change the world and make people feel something.”


For more information on Ya’Ke Smith’s Exodus Films, visit and/or his fund-raising for “Wolf” at


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