Gustavius Smith is an award-winning writer and director from Nassau, Bahamas. With interests in design, writing and acting he studied theater at Florida A&M University and later worked in Nassau as a staff reporter for The Tribune newspaper. His articles have been published by PolicyMic and NYIHA Media. In 2002, Smith’s passion for storytelling led him to New York City, where he currently resides.
Smith’s eye for socially driven stories enables him to create films that are empowering, provocative and entertaining. He has penned four feature-length screenplays, including Heading North (in development); Built for Load (Winner of the 2007 Ansbacher Filmmakers Residency Award at the Bahamas International Film Festival); Goodbye Cowboy and Foreigner.
Smith also wrote, produced, and directed 2 short films, Crude (2005) and Contact Zone (2010). Crude was officially selected to the Bahamas International Film Festival and the New York Short Film Festival. Contact Zone has won several awards and has screened at the 2nd Annual PortlandMaine Film Festival (October 2011); the 2nd Annual Urban Suburban Film Festival (June 2011), the 13th Annual San Francisco Black Film Festival (June 2011), the 44th Annual World-Fest Houston International Film Festival (April 2011); the 14th Annual Magnolia Independent Film Festival (February 2011); the 1st Annual Blue Sky Film Festival (February 2011); the 7th Annual Bahamas International Film Festival (December 2010); the 6th Annual Montréal International Black Film Festival (October 2010); and the 1st Annual Williamsburg International Film Festival (September 2010).
Recently, Smith directed a music video for singer/songwriter Esnavi for her hit song Unexpected Love. The video is currently on rotation on VH1 Soul, Centric TV (Top Countdown and Soul Sessions), and Music Choice Video On Demand. The single has been on the TOP 40 Urban Adult Contemporary Chart for several weeks, and is currently playing in over 30 major radio stations across the country.
Smith is a member of the Independent Film Project and Talk Cinema.
Q&A with Gustavius Smith
BS: Where did your passion for writing, acting and directing initiate? How do you incorporate your Caribbean culture into your work?
Gustavius Smith: Writing, acting, and directing sort of found me. I was studying architecture when a Theater professor sold his dramatic writing class to me in college. He cast me in his play and the rest is history. In the theater I could use all my talents: design, writing, and addressing social issues. It was kind of a no-brainer. I had to have the consciousness about what mattered to me before that but I guess that was ingrained from an early age.
BS: What important issues or subjects do your films and/or articles address?
Gustavius Smith: As a Bahamian and a Caribbean man myself, my work and voice are based on Caribbean issues, but I do get involved in American politics from time to time. Specifically my writing deals with migration, immigration and crime in the Bahamas, Haiti and the US.
BS: How did you begin directing films? How would you describe your experience in that industry thus far?
Gustavius Smith: I learned how to direct plays in college, but I taught myself screenwriting and filmmaking. I bought the same books filmmakers in film schools were reading and immersed myself in the craft. I wrote my first screenplay and directed my first short in 2005 – that was my filmmaking thesis if you will. That first short was screened in two film festivals and the screenplay I won the Ansbacher Filmmaker Residency award – for a cool $10,000 bucks.
BS: How would you describe your career progression? What are some of your long or short-term career goals?
Gustavius Smith: I want to work more. I would have liked to have directed two feature length films by now. That’s not the case. Instead I have directed two shorts, one of them, Contact Zone, has won seven or eight awards. I have also written three feature length screenplays, which I have been told are remarkable, and I have directed a music video. I think I’m doing okay for someone who taught himself filmmaking. I want more but I am also fulfilled: it’s weird that way. I think because it’s art, at the end of the day you are just happy to be doing it because it fuels and soothes your soul.
BS: How would you describe your writing style?
Gustavius Smith: Social realism. I write about real people in plausible circumstances, and choose compelling topics. I was a reporter for two years after college and that experience influences my work.
BS: What projects are you most proud of and why? What motivates you?
Gustavius Smith: I’m really proud of all of my work. If I had to pick one right now it’s the screenplay for Heading North. The story is about a young woman who leaves Haiti to reunite with her mom in Florida but the boat she is on is chartered for a different course.
Over the course of my career in film I have chosen quality over quantity. I’m an independent writer/director, which means that I write what I direct, and am really motivated to tell stories. And I want to tell them well, be true to the characters in pages and on the screen.
BS: Describe a difficult situation that you had to overcome. How do you define success?
Gustavius Smith: When you are an independent filmmaker, working on themes that are not necessarily mainstream- then getting your ideas from page to screen is a herculean challenge. To get it into wide distribution in theaters is like moving a mountain.
BS: How would you describe your experience directing the Unexpected Love music video for singer/songwriter Esnavi?
Gustavius Smith: Directing that video was a very rewarding experience. It was Esnavi’s first music video and the first one I had directed. Esnavi made my job easy because she is first and foremost a professional, and a natural in front of the camera; she is really a true entertainer and the spotlight brings out the best in her. I think we did a fantastic job. The video aired on Vh1, BET and Centric and now it’s on ITUNES.
BS: Has being raised and working in Nassau, Bahamas affected your work ethic or mindset?
Gustavius Smith: Big time! Island life is so compelling to me. The Bahamas has a rich history with so many fascinating stories ripe for the telling. Just look at the success of Pirates of the Caribbean. But I think that it is our day-to-day lives, the follies and struggles, that makes for the best cinema.
BS: How does it feel to be an award-winning writer and director?
Gustavius Smith: It feels great. I have had to make sacrifices to take this path, but I’ve got to do what my heart tells me. I have people who believe in me and encourage me to keep working and I’m very grateful for that. I wouldn’t change a thing.