Ray and Andrew Smith’s Voices from Vietnam: Reflecting at a Wall helped spark the Doko Film Fest.

If you look at his resume, Raymond Smith doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would start such an event as this weekend’s first-ever Doko Film Fest. 

The Blythewood resident is the associate dean of the University of South Carolina’s Executive Development Department in the Darla Moore School of Business, and also serves as president of Corporate Solutions. But the educator is also a lifelong lover of film, and he often used movies for teaching purposes, including ones he made himself.

 “I’m in the learning world,” Smith tells Free Times, “and I’ve been using film for quite a while as part of that world. A few years ago I made a few short films that were learning parables about leadership because I think it’s a good way for humans to learn and for people to make sense of things and draw parallels to their own lives and experiences.”

But Smith had a deeper connection with film through his son, Andrew, who graduated from USC in 2015 with a degree in media arts but was having trouble finding work.

“Andrew had moved back home, and he mentioned he wasn’t getting any experience,” Smith says. “So I said, ‘Why don’t we just go and make some films about living in Blythewood?’ So we made five short films on different aspects of living in Blythewood, interviewing different people, and Andrew learned what he needed to do and got some experience towards becoming a filmmaker.”

The town council loved the films the Smiths made, and the Blythewood Historical Society contacted the two about filming the arrival of the Travelling Vietnam Memorial Wall, a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C that travels the United States from April through November, spending five or six days at each site. 

“We were asked by the historical society to film it, just as a record, nothing more than that,” Smith explains, “and I realized I didn’t know much about the Vietnam War. So we thought we’d interview the veterans and get their side of the story, and we made a film called Voices From Vietnam: Reflecting At A Wall, that eventually aired on PBS stations across the nation, much to our surprise.”

The film was also selected as a finalist at the Beaufort International Film Festival in 2018, and the Smiths attended. 

“We went down as finalists, never having been to such a thing before,” Smith says. “And we had such a good experience and were so well-treated. Andrew and I talked about that experience and he told me that when he was in school, there had been very few opportunities for high schoolers to make and show films. So I thought, ‘Let’s make a film festival for high school filmmakers and make it like the Beaufort film festival.’”

That’s how the idea for what would eventually be called the Doko Film Festival was born — Doko being the town of Blythewood’s prior name. Working with Beaufort Film Festival organizers Ron and Rebecca Tucker as advisers and presenting sponsor Bravo Blythewood, a nonprofit dedicated to the promotion of arts in the area, Smith created a festival that allows high school filmmakers, primarily but not strictly from South Carolina, to submit films in six different categories: short story, documentary, music video, comedy, animation and pocket studio, meaning a film that is entirely produced using a smartphone or iPad or similar device.

A 13-judge panel, including two-time Oscar-winning special effects producer Michelle Eisenreich (who attended school in Blythewood in her younger days) and actor James Jude Courtney (who played Michael Myers in the most recent Halloween movie) will consider 13 entries in those categories out of 60 submitted. The festival, which will take place at Westwood High School and Doko Manor Blythewood this Friday and Saturday, will include screenings of each film, four master classes about various aspects of filmmaking, an opening reception and a festival-closing outdoor concert on Saturday evening.

“The first thing I had to do was decide what the festival was and how it could have value to these high school-aged filmmakers,” Smith says of creating the event. “I wanted it to be about learning and education. This is an interesting phase in their lives. They’re old enough to put projects together, they care about issues, they have great imaginations, they’re comfortable with technology, but they’re also thinking about adulthood.”   

What: Doko Film Fest

Where: Westwood High School (180 Turkey Farm Rd.) and Doko Manor (100 Alvina Hagood Circle) in Blythewood

When: April 26-28


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