( ENSPIRE Entertainment ) Damien D Smith Discusses Past Films and Upcoming Roles
ENSPIRE Contributor: Daniel Garritson
Born in St. Louis, MO, and raised by his grandparents, writer, actor, and award-winning Director, Damien D. Smith knew his mission early on in life. Damien learned first-hand what it truly meant to care for others, as his Grandmother played a vital role in doing just that in their community. Planting an irreversible seed of empathy in him, Damien grew an intense desire to shed light on various injustices throughout the world & “isms” that keep people from connecting. Leaning towards the field of film, he soon went on to take his place behind the camera, ready to take on the role of activist & storyteller.
A self-proclaimed Cinephile at heart, Damien went on to hone his craft by working as a Grip & Electric on countless film sets, giving him the unique perspective to study different director’s styles in lighting, pacing, and command of the set. Jumping into his directorial work, Damien’s accolades started early on with the debut of his short narrative film About That, quickly gaining recognition and becoming the grand prize winner of The Art with Impact Film Festival in San Francisco.
His narrative work to follow, Daddy’s Big Girl, later became the national winner of the 2018 Gentleman Jack Daniels Reel to Real Filmmakers Awards, landing him the honorable title of Filmmaker of the Year. A testament to Smith’s career to follow, his various upcoming projects, such as Second and Stolen Time, continued to garner recognition, granting him titles such as Up And Coming Director to Watch by Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network and UpNext Director to Watch by The Root Magazine.
Most recently, after making their rounds in the festival circuit, his documentarian work has gained recognition with his projects #Free to Be Free, winning awards such as Best Documentary Short at the New Orleans Second Line Film Festival, New York Human Rights Film Festival & Independent Shorts Awards, and his film, Target St. Louis Vol 1 winning Best Feature Documentary at the Reel Sisters & Urbanworld Filmfest 22.
His Docu-series, Detangling The South, also caught attention early on at Cannes International Cinema Festival, being awarded Best TV Series Pilot Award Winner. The docu-series has even made prominent enough strides to capture the attention of the United Nations, inviting Damien to participate in their various panels and speaking opportunities in New York to support Women’s History Month.
When did you discover your love for directing and filmmaking?
I discovered my love for directing and filmmaking earlier on in storytelling. I watched all the movies I possibly could as a kid, classics, the 80s, and the 90s… I mean thousands of movies back in the day. I just loved watching storytelling and filmmaking, even before I knew the technical names for everything. I worked in film festivals while being an actor and studying it, studying a crowd from both sides. And what transitioned me into directing was thinking one day, “You know what, I have a story that I want to tell, and I feel like I want to see what I can do.” Because I always critiqued and talked about films and things in a manner, I wanted to put my money where my mouth was and show exactly what I could do.
How did the influence of your grandmother shape the stories you tell through film?
Well, my grandmother was a very influential person in my life and how I perceived and took in life through my lens. So, I tell stories through the philanthropic manner in which I was brought up. So yeah, most of my stories have a humanistic civil or social engagement level with them, and that’s because one of the main reasons is my grandmother.
What was it like being in Emancipation with Will Smith?
It was a great situation. I really enjoyed working with Will. Whenever we were in some of the heaviest scenes with a lot of emotional baggage and gravity to them, Antoine would yell cut and Will would crack a joke to raise the levity of the situation. So it was really good working with Will Smith; A very positive experience and I would love to work with him again.
Are you excited for fans to see you in Snowfall, and what can they expect from your character this season?
I am extremely excited for people to see my character in Snowfall. I’m really excited that you’ll see much more of my character and see where his alliances are held and where he rests his head. I would love my character to have a spinoff, of course. You know, with Snowfall and Top Notch doing his thing and showing more of his range.
Do you have any other new projects in the works for this year?
Yes, I have two movies coming out, one called Driftwood, a psychological thriller, and The Nine, in which I play one of the leads as a detective that goes across the world in a cry. We shot 90% of this film in Ghana and across, so I’m really blessed and excited for that to be coming out this year. And, you know, a couple of other projects. So stay tuned.
And thank you, my good people. You can find me across most social media platforms to stay updated with me on when all these projects come out. Peace, my good people.
When not behind the camera, Damien’s love for the arts puts him front and center, most recently alongside Will Smith in the Apple Original Film, Emancipation, which was nominated for Best Ensemble Cast for the 2023 Image Awards. Following his film work, Damien will next be seen in upcoming feature films Driftwood and supernatural thriller NINE, which is currently set to have its South African premiere in February 2023, as part of the Joburg Film Festival – additional release details to follow.
Extending his screen work to the small screen, fans can recognize Damien from fan-favorite series’ including The Purge, Young Rock, A Short Break, and Born Again Virgin, to name a few. He is next set to re-occur in FX’s hit series, Snowfall as TOP-NOTCH, Private Investigator. Season 6 is slated to premiere on February 22nd.
Damien is truly an artist at heart, unable to keep himself from his work, whether it be in front of the camera or planning his next directorial move. He hopes his work in the years to come continues to give a voice to voiceless, racial, and various social justice platforms that aren’t highlighted enough in today’s common day. When his craft isn’t taking him around the world, Damien can be found writing, enjoying the theater, and exploring local museums.