Envisioning Home

ENVISIONING HOME:
THE JEAN KING AND RICHARD BARON STORY

This is an image“Envisioning Home” is a feature length documentary film exploring the personalities and accomplishments of two imaginative leaders, two agents of change in the world of public housing. Beginning with the 1968-69 tenant strike these two wildly different people came together in St. Louis and began to forge a vision for transforming the way we think about affordable public housing. By inspiring resident and family empowerment while creating more humane places to live, they showed how individuals can make a difference, invigorating individual lives and building vibrant neighborhoods and communities from distressed central cities. A remarkable, homegrown leader during the tenant strikes, Jean King met Richard Baron, a legal aide-turned-visionary planner and developer (co-founder/chairman, McCormack Baron Salazar). Together they helped change the face of inner city life in St. Louis and beyond. With production nearly completed, “Envisioning Home” should be ready for premieres and festival submission in September.

 

Movie Poster

 

The Phoenix

The Phoenix

THE PHOENIX is a dramatic feature film project that explores the remarkable true-life story of Harold Dennis–a young man who pulled himself away from a tragic, transforming moment and revived his life with moving courage and inspiring vigor.

We explore Harold’s dramatic journey toward wholeness and self-esteem after surviving a 1988 bus crash near Carrolton, KY, in which a drunk driver rammed into a bus full of kids killing 27 out of 67 on board (the worst drunk-driving accident in U.S. History)

Harold, a young teenager at the time, not only had to confront the loss of his lifelong friend (who perished sitting next to him on the bus) but also the powerful fears that he would never find a girl or return to his life as an athlete.

Despite his disfiguring scars and survivor guilt, Harold not only finds true love with a beautiful young woman, but a few years later he gets national headlines when he makes the University of Kentucky football team as a walk-on. As Coach Bill Curry said, “Harold Dennis has a brutal situation, but the brutal situation doesn’t have Harold.”

Harold won the Gene Autry and Arete Courage Awards, the latter presented by Evander Holyfield and Ahmad Rashad. His story was prominently featured on ESPN, CBS This Morning, People Magazine and Sports Illustrated.

At once a powerful coming-of-age sports drama and a moving love story, THE PHOENIX brings vividly to life the fascinating odyssey of how one young man’s near-death catastrophe turns into a courageous life-sustaining quest.

The Phoenix

Impact: After the Crash

IMPACT: AFTER THE CRASH

Whose life hasn’t in some way-through family or friends or a friend of a friend been touched by the calamity of drunk driving? Our film explores this problem not by waving an accusatory finger at those who drive drunk even though such a gesture might be deserved but instead by taking viewers inside one of the most catastrophic drunk driving episodes in American history; the tragic bus crash in Carrolton, Kentucky, in 1988. But more than that, we take viewers beyond the “impact” to a place of recovery and hope and inspiration.

Our mission with this film is not only to inspire others by providing an in-depth look into the lives of the families of this crash, but also to promote responsibility and proper decision making when it comes to the consumption of alcohol. Please consider supporting us in our mission.

FILM SYNOPSIS

The feature documentary, IMPACT: AFTER THE CRASH, explores the horrific Carrolton, Kentucky bus crash of May 14, 1988, which killed 27 people (mostly children) and injured nearly three dozen others, making it the worst drunk-driving related accident in U.S. history. The Kentucky tragedy became nationally known, not only because of the devastation it caused, but also because this incident gave prominence to the then-fledgling national anti-drunk driving organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Our documentary will take viewers back to that fateful night– including a dramatic and powerful recreation of the accident– and then explore how those who lost family and friends have over the years both suffered and recovered from their pain and losses. Bus crash survivor-turned-UK Football Star Harold Dennis provides the emotional center of our documentary, which will also reveal numerous other personal stories of loss and heroic rejuvenation, of fear and love, struggle and hope. The film will offer a stirring and compelling exploration of what it means to try to recover your life, when in an instant, everything is turned upside down.

As the minister who delivered the memorial message to survivors and relatives of those killed in the accident observed, the crash could become not simply a moment of destruction and loss, but a time of deliverance and new beginnings. For Harold Dennis, among several others, it did. Their courageous response to tragedy is an example to us all. IMPACT: AFTER THE CRASH delivers that powerful message by following the lives of several survivors and kin who suffered deeply from the incident but found the will to begin their lives anew.

Directed by Kentucky’s celebrated young filmmaker, Jason Epperson (ON THE LOT, UNREQUITED) and written and produced by Emmy-nominated writer and historian, Daniel Blake Smith (FEBRUARY ONE, KENTUCKY–AN AMERICAN STORY), IMPACT: AFTER THE CRASH tells a moving, universal story about the precariousness of life and the power of change.


Having trouble viewing the video? Click here!

Kentucky — An American Story

A thought-provoking documentary narrated by Ashley Judd examines how Kentucky history mirrors the larger American experience. Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Paul Wagner.

Blood Born

LOGLINE:
A failed writer’s life turns upside down when he learns his blood cures cancer.

SYNOPSIS:
A struggling writer, BRANDON MEEKS can barely piece together enough odd jobs to make ends meet. Even his barmaid girlfriend, JO LYNN, feels more secure than he does and is growing tired of Brandon’s stalled career. To make matters worse, Brandon has some druggies chasing him for unpaid debts—Brandon has been buying marijuana to help ease the chronic pain his sister JANE suffers from her cancer. So when Brandon literally stumbles into a blood bank, he seizes on the opportunity to make additional money by giving blood—repeatedly.

Little does he imagine that “there’s gold in those veins,” as his uncle physician, DR. FRANK MEEKS, tells him when news comes back from the blood bank that Brandon’s blood transfused into several dying cancer patients has completely cured them!

Once an eager and ambitious journalist, DANNY (the brother of Brandon’s girl friend, Jo Lynn) learns about Brandon’s “miracle blood” and writes an unauthorized front page newspaper story about it, Brandon becomes headline news everywhere. Which leads to fame and fortune thanks to the enterprising efforts of his uncle and a few associates eager to get rich.

But it also leads to danger: the pharmaceutical industry (which has major cancer drugs now in jeopardy if Brandon’s blood becomes the new hope in the world in the fight against cancer) harasses Brandon relentlessly in order to silence him and put an end to his curative blood. Meanwhile, his drug connections, excited now by Brandon’s newfound wealth and celebrity, begin chasing after him even more intensely, trying now to extract ever greater amounts of money from him over his unpaid debt.

Amid these conflicts, doubts start to creep in from a few places in the medical community about the complete validity of the initial research into Brandon’s blood. Which drives Brandon into his greatest test: with so many people, most especially his own sister Jane who got one of the first transfusions from Brandon’s blood, staking their lives on the HOPE that Brandon ‘gift’ is genuine and transforming, Brandon now must confront the real possibility that all the early excitement and fervor over his ‘miracle blood,’ may be a cruel hoax. In a stirring climax, Brandon must choose between hope and truth.


Having trouble viewing the video? Click here!

Terror of the Soul Edgar Allan Poe

Terror of the Soul: Edgar Allan Poe

Buy Now

His name conjures up images of premature burial, black cats, forbidden crypts, and crumbling old houses where terrifying secrets dwell. Almost one hundred and fifty years after his death, Edgar Allan Poe’s prose and poetry continue to frighten, influence and inspire writers, composers, artists, poets, and readers all over the world. Despite the very small amount of recognition he received during his lifetime, Poe is today considered one of America’s greatest writers. In this PBS film written by Daniel Blake Smith , Poe and his work come vividly to life.

Born on January 19, 1809, Poe was the son of professional actors in Boston, Massachusetts. After his mother passed away, his father left, orphaning him at the age of three. Separated from his brother and sister, he went to live with a well-to-do family in Virginia. The Allans (from which Poe took his middle name) brought him to England and provided him with a strong education, but were resistant to his literary aspirations. By the time he attended the University of Virginia, he had already begun to grow apart from his guardian, John Allan.

After losing most of his money to gambling, and becoming estranged from the Allans, Poe left college and enlisted in the United States Army. There he progressed rapidly, becoming a sergeant major. It was then that he self-published his first book, TAMERLANE AND OTHER POEMS. Like most of Poe’s publishing efforts, this book was met coolly by the literary community. After his discharge from the Army, Poe worked briefly at West Point and then moved to Baltimore where he found work as a reviewer and literary editor. In 1833, he married his thirteen-year-old cousin and moved her and her mother to Virginia.

Throughout the late 1830s and early 1840s, Poe wrote much of his best work, including THE NARRATIVE OF ARTHUR GORDON PYM and the stories “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and “The Gold Bug.” While other writers of the time were writing straight forward realistic representations of life in America, Poe was concerning himself with the subconscious— dreams, nightmares, and the unspoken. His work plumbed the depths of human fears and desires, often allowing the “reality” of the stories to fade away and make room for a reality only found within the mind. Though he had a handful of admirers, Poe’s interest in the unspoken and psychological left him unable to successfully sell his work.

To support his new wife and mother-in-law, Poe moved to New York and took a number of jobs as a magazine editor, working at publications including NEW YORK MIRROR, BURTON’S GENTLEMEN’S MAGAZINE, and GODEY’S LADY’S BOOK. Though both his skill as an editor and administrator were exceptional, he often found himself at odds with others within the literary world. He was a heavy drinker and rarely lasted more than a year and a half at any one job. In 1844 Poe received some attention for his masterful poem “The Raven.” But with the slight advances in his career during the mid-1840s also came the setbacks of his continued drinking, employment problems, and most of all, the ill health of his wife, Virginia.

In January of 1847 his wife died, and Poe returned to Virginia. There he continued to write, producing one of his masterpieces, “Eureka.” On a trip back north to New York in 1849, Poe stopped in Baltimore where he was found on October 3rd, passed out on a street outside a bar. He died four days later. Though some have suggested foul play, no one is exactly certain of the circumstances of his death. Sadly, it was not until years later, with the help of French poets such as Baudelaire, that Poe’s rank as a great artist became solidified. A man profoundly ahead of his time, Edgar Allan Poe pointed to the mysteries of the psyche, to the dark truths that float in our dreams, to our unredeamable fears; and for this, the art of writing will remain eternally grateful.

Buy Now

The Trail of Tears

The Trail of Fears Cherokee Legacy

Buy Now

Known worldwide as “The Nammys” – Nama (Native American Music Awards) is an ultimate celebration of music & video honoring the outstanding achievements of today’s leading Native American artists.

The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy, written by Daniel Blake Smith, explores America’s darkest period: President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to Oklahoma in 1838. Nearly a quarter of the Cherokee National died during the Trail of Tears, arriving in Indian Territory with few elders and even fewer children. Presented by Wes Studi and narrated by James Earl Jones, “Trail of Tears Cherokee Legacy” has already captured an impressive array of awards, including:

  • Silver World Medal for History, New York Festivals 2007
  • Silver Film Award, Telly Awards 2007
  • Best Documentary, American Indian Film Festival 2006
  • Founder’s Award, International Cherokee Film Festival 2006
  • Best Documentary DeadCenter Film festival
  • Best Feature Documentary Native American Music Awards
  • Platinum Best of Show Aurora Awards
  • Winner AEGIS Awards

Buy Now

Black Indians: An American Story

Black Indians: An American Story

Buy Now

“Black Indians: An American Story” (as seen on ABC) brings to light a forgotten part of Americans past – the cultural and racial fusion of Native and African Americans. Written by Daniel Blake Smith and narrated by James Earl Jones, “Black Indians: An American Story” explores what brought the two groups together, what drove them apart and the challenges they face today.

  • Award of Distinction, Indian Summer Festival 2005
  • Cine Golden Eagle 2002
  • Crystal Award of Excellence, Communicator Awards 2002
  • Best Documentary, Native American Music Awards 2002
  • Aurora Gold Award 2001

A society that wants to build the future must know its past, its real past, as it was.” But what if that past had been lost, forgotten, hidden, or denied?

“Black Indians: An American Story,” explores the issue of racial identity among Native and African Americans. This in-depth documentary examines the coalescence of these two groups in American history. Discounted, and often ignored by mainstream America, these minority peoples have often shared a common past. However, with their heritage ignored and their contributions denied they are all but invisible at the dawn of the new millennium.

It was a black and white world in the early days of the Republic and little or no thought was given to people of mixed race, especially if they looked “black.” “We were told ‘if you could pass for white, that’s who you’d be; if not, it was usually better to be identified as black than Indian,’” recalls Executive Producer Steven Heape. “It was this kind of thinking that later led to ‘pencil genocide’–changing one’s race on a birth certificate to fit the skin color of the child.” DVD – Running Time 60 minutes

Buy Now

February One

PBS Broadcast, February 2010

Organization of American Historians Erik Barnouw Award Honorable Mention Recipient

February One

Buy Now

In one remarkable day, four college freshmen changed the course of American history. Written and co-produced by Daniel Blake Smith, February One tells the inspiring story surrounding the 1960 Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins that revitalized the Civil Rights Movement and set an example of student militancy for the coming decade. This moving film shows how a small group of determined individuals can galvanize a mass movement and focus a nation’s attention on injustice.

The Greensboro Four, Ezell Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil, were close friends at North Carolina A&T University before they became political activists. Two of the four had grown up where segregation was not legal, while another’s father was active in the NAACP. They recount how the idea for the sit-in grew out of those late night ‘bull sessions’ that make college years so rich. Prof. William Chafe helps set the historical context the four young men confronted: the Civil Rights Movement had stalled since the Brown decision and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. On the night of January 31, 1960 the four dared each other to do something that would change the South and their own lives forever. They decided to sit-in at the whites-only lunch counter at Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro the next day.

On February 1st, dressed in their Sunday best, the four men sat down at the lunch counter. Frank McCain remembers that he knew then this would be the high point of his life, “I felt clean…I had gained my manhood by that simple act.” The four were refused service; when they did not leave the store the manager closed the lunch counter. In the days that followed they were joined by more students from local Black colleges and a few white students who also sat-in at other lunch counters in Greensboro. Prof. Vincent Harding reminds us that the Civil Rights Movement was the first major social movement to be covered by television news so word of the events in Greensboro spread across the nation like a prairie fire. Within just a few days students were sitting in at lunch counters in fifty-four cities around the South.

Greensboro’s civic leadership pressured the President of North Carolina A&T to halt the protests but he counseled the students to follow their own consciences. Finally after months of protests the Woolworth management quietly integrated its lunch counter. The wave of direct action started by the Greensboro Four coalesced in the formation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the vanguard of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. February One not only fills in one of the most important chapters in the Civil Rights Movement, it reminds us that this was a movement of ordinary people motivated to extraordinary deeds by the need to assert their basic human dignity. It provides an eloquent argument to today’s generation of students that involvement in the politics of our own time is a vital part of any college education.

Emmy award-winning filmmaker, educator, and president of Video Dialog Inc., Dr. Steven Channing has produced nationally televised films including This Other Eden andWe Remember America’s 400th Anniversary. Dr. Channing has also served as a Professor of American History at the University of Kentucky, Visiting Professor at Stanford University, and Research Professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Civil Rights Teaching Tools
Greensboro Civil Rights Museum
More about the film
PBS webpage
Review of February One by Paul Miller

Buy Now

© Copyright Daniel Blake Smith - Designed by Talent Attach