no one ever talks about what life is like after you try to kill yourself.
Smile is a drama that follows Jules during the summer after returning home from the lowest point in her life. Clouded by her denial, she must navigate her relationships with her family, her friends, and her future. Jules must decide if she is going to take the steps she needs to save herself, or fall back into a pattern of avoidance and lies. Smile is an exploration of how we respond to trauma through the relationships that shape us, the memories that haunt us, and the choices we make.
SMU's Film & Media Arts Summer Film Production is university supported but student managed, directed, & fundraised feature-film. The project originated off of a production shot in 2010 and has since become an official program of the SMU Film & Media Arts Department. It occurs on a biannual cycle.
Roughly 6 scripts were submitted for consideration of the 2019-2022 cycle. All applicants were read by the selection committee of SMU Film professors and local film experts and given notes for revision. After a month of script revisions, three screenplays were selected as finalists. The selection committee selected Smile as the winning script.
From there, Directing/Producing teams were assembled. They pitched to the selection committee in hopes of being chosen to lead the Smile team. Kelsey Hodge, Brittney Hutchison, and Alexa May were selected and immediately began pre-production under the advising of SMU Film Professor Mark Kerins. Darnell Robinson was added to the team as a Producer roughly a year later.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this cycle has been prolonged by a year. The original production dates for the summer of 2020 were pushed back to the summer of 2021 to ensure the safety and health of all cast and crew. However, Smile is once again moving forward at full speed.
On October 15, 2017, in my second year of college, I turned 20 years old. On October 16, 2017, my grandmother passed away. This was my first experience with the death of a person so close to me in life. Something told me that things would never be the same. By the end of her life, she had become the glue holding my dysfunctional family together. And it was suddenly all over. But I didn't really do anything. I went to the funeral, cried a little, and I moved on. After all, I was still in school and had things to do and other responsibilities.
Fast forward to a year later. October 15, 2018. I was excited to be turning 21, but I knew that the next day would be the first anniversary of my grandmother's death, something that I hadn't talked about with anymore. October 16, 2018. It'd been a year and suddenly I just felt... off. I didn't talk about how I was feeling with my mom or any friends because I couldn't put a finger on what was making me feel this way. And everyone has to deal with death at some point in their life. What makes me special? I made a lot of mistakes that semester that I still feel the consequences of today. When my mom realized how bad everything was, she was upset, terrified, but also confused as to why I didn't reach out for help. Why did I try to handle everything by myself?
I had gotten into such a dark place during that time in my life that sometimes I wondered... how different would things have been if I was just a bit more broken? What if I was damaged enough that I tried to end my own life? This is when Jules' story, a story like so many other women out there, began to show itself to me. I wanted to make a story centered around a young woman that did not include a question of whether she would end up with a boy as the central question. It was the question of is she going to be able to survive, despite everything in her life being so dark. It's the journey of going through something traumatic but trying to figure out a way to come out on the other side stronger. I saw that as something that, for black women in particular, we often have to overcome in our lives, but is never talked about.
I feel that Smile is the opportunity to explore this more through Jules and the many relationships in her life, particularly the mother-daughter relationship which can be so rich, complicated, and full of generational trauma. I hope that Smile can be a way to discuss the answers to these questions and explore stories like Jules', like mine, and so many more.
- Kelsey Hodge, Writer & Director
At its core, this film is an exploration of how we handle trauma and recovery through the various relationships in our lives. While not every person has attempted suicide like Jules, we've all been in our own dark place at some point. In every argument, every laugh, every cry, from the beginning to the end of the film, we all see ourselves in Jules.
While this film deals with heavy topics like abuse and suicide, there are lighter and more comedic moments. Films that serve as inspiration for such a balance are Lady Bird and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. An important relationship that is explored in Smile is the mother-daughter relationship. This is a complicated relationship that is so authentically represented in Lady Bird that we hope to convey between Jules and Carolyn. Jules' connection with her two best friends Ferris and Cole is very similar to Charlie, Sam, and Patrick from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Molly and Amy from Booksmart.