BY MIKE FUHRMAN
Michael Glover Smith loves creating interesting characters, bringing them to life and then watching them change.
The Chicago-based filmmaker uses his art as a vehicle for exploring the connections humans make with others – and how those relationships shape and enrich our lives.
“Creating art, which includes making movies, is a way for me personally to understand myself better and understand the world I live in better,” he explained. “For me, it’s a way to pose questions about who we are.”
His latest short, “Paper Planes,” will be featured at the 2023 Full Bloom Film Festival. He describes the 17-minute film as a Christmas love story set in the Midwest and hopes the audience will leave the screening with a full heart.
The film, which was written in December by co-director Alyssa Thordarson and shot in two days after a month of intense pre-production work, was created on a shoestring budget with members of the Screen Actors Guild.
“Everybody got paid and everybody got fed,” Smith quipped. “Food is a huge part of the budget.”
With four feature films to his credit, Smith is on the cusp of being a full-time filmmaker. He still teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a couple Chicago-area community colleges, but at this stage in his life he’s a little more passionate about his time behind the camera than his time behind the lectern.
I didn’t study film at DePaul. I studied theater there before transferring to Columbia College, which is where I got my BA in film production.
A Charlotte native, Smith studied film theater as an undergraduate at DePaul University in the late 1990s before transferring to Columbia College, where he earned a B.A. in fim production.
Bu he drifted away from film production and was actually working in a high-end tobacco shop when he was drawn back into the magic of movies.
Smith started teaching as a last-minute fill-in for an instructor and then built a career in academia, which rekindled his passion for making movies around 2009. By then the industry had gone digital and he had some catching up to do. So he taught himself.
In 2015, with a $5,000 budget, Smith made his first feature, “Cool Apocalypse.”
“That’s the least amount of money you can spend and still make a film,” he said.
The 72-minute film was critically acclaimed and won awards at festivals throughout the United States – and Smith was hooked.
“With that encouragement, the only question was what would I do next,” he said.
The answer was “Mercury in Retrograde,” which was selected for screening at the 2017 Full Bloom Film Festival and then won the festival’s top award.
Smith has been a regular at the Statesville festival ever since. The event is close to his hometown, and “it’s a perfect example of a small-town festival done right,” he said.
At festivals in larger cities, Smith explained, there are dozens of events going on simultaneously at different venues. In smaller towns, the festivals seem more like a big deal. That’s certainly been his experience with the Full Bloom Film Festival.
“What’s great about Statesville is everybody in downtown Statesville knows why you are there,” Smith said. “Everybody is excited you are there, and everybody is planning on going to see some of the films.
“It seems like it’s only gotten bigger and better every year,” he added. “As a filmmaker, I feel like I have grown up with the festival.”
“Relative,” Smith’s 2022 film, which followed “Rendezvous in Chicago” (2018), has been his most commercially successful endeavor, playing in 17 different states as well as Toronto.
When he attends public screenings of his films, Smith is often intrigued by the audience’s reaction.
Watching others watch his work is almost as fun as making the film. Scenes that are embraced warmly by one crowd may elicit only a lukewarm response in another town.
That’s what makes it art, right?
While Smith certainly wants audiences and critics to appreciate his work – and he wants investors to “sign on for the adventure,” that is not the driving force behind his art.
That’s much more personal.
“All of my films are about the need for human connection in the modern world,” he said. “That’s taught me what’s important in my own world — and in my relationships with my family and friends.”
For more information about the 2023 Full Bloom Film Festival, visit www.fullbloomfilmfestival.org
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the September issue of “IFN Monthly.”