Grand Rapids is full of talented young people from all fields. It can be difficult to get around the Beer City USA moniker that we have found for ourselves, but there are some young people who are pushing to make Grand Rapids known for more than just beer.
The film industry can be as tough and cut throat as Wall Street itself, and it takes talent, persistence, and the right connections to make a dent. We are lucky to have a growing group of young filmmakers in our growing city that have chosen Grand Rapids as their home base.
One such person is Lajanae Smith, so we caught up with her to find out more about her travels, work, and why she chooses Grand Rapids as her home base.
RG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
LJS: I say that I am a filmmaker: I write, produce content on a short scale, and freelance crew in film production for feature films. The long term goal is to become a director and I plan to direct a short I wrote late this year. In creative work, I am an ideas person and I like to exercise my imagination. When working in the music scene, I do public relations for three artists that are my clients. Sometimes my worlds collide and I meet major artists, Ty Dolla $ and Lizzo for example, that I want to consider acting for a movie I’ve been developing for the last year and a half so that’s always a fun conversation to entertain, Lizzo was into it…
RG: Why Grand Rapids as home base?
LJS: Grand Rapids is where I was born and raised. It’s where the majority of my family and friends are and even though I love visiting new places, GR is home. Over the last few years major changes have been taking place (so much construction!). I’ve since learned that what may equal positive change for a select few isn’t always positive change for all. If I didn’t get my start here I would not see myself trying to start anything here. GR has not always been inclusive. I haven’t always seen the change I want to see as an artist here in my hometown. I laude Carbon Stories and laFEM for who and what they are and do.
So perhaps because the infrastructure to feature films doesn’t seem as accessible here already, I feel the need to be part of the change I want to see. To create community surrounding that idea and make opportunities and avenues for those that remind me of myself and want to collaborate. For them to see those possibilities for themselves and to tell new stories. If nothing else really just to believe in people.
RG: What potential do you see in Grand Rapids?
LJS: Currently there seems to be a lot of potential in Grand Rapids if you’ve been in line awhile. It’s difficult to play the long game and have patience when it feels like you’ve been waiting 400 years just to live freely and expressively create sans boundaries. Grand Rapids seems ripe for great change with the new technologies and innovation already taking place. I see we’re building leaders and the culture is shifting to better reflect metropolitan cities. We believe in family and children here and I genuinely think our kids are the future.
RG: When you’re not traveling and working, what do you do for fun around the city?
LJS: I bike, I read, I love studying my field, I watch a lot of movies, enjoy time with friends and family. I Love Downtown GR and Movies in the Park. We have a few weekly watering holes for filmmakers that I frequent to catch up with people. My work is my passion and purpose so it’s very fun for me to work on projects I care about when I’m home.
RG: What are you currently working on?
LJS: Currently my main focus is the creative arts company Cinema Bijøn Enterprise that I’m launching mid-August. I’m planning a community-wide business and movie pitch at Chez Olga in Eastown so it’s a bit unconventional and scary but I know it’s needed and I’m very excited. Chez Olga is opening on a Sunday just for that and customizing a brunch menu with me, so that kind of creative collaboration with minority women and immigrant business owners has been a total blessing. After that I hope to freelance on two films shooting in GR and then heading down to Atlanta to finally collaborate with The House Of June, an independent arts production company founded exclusively by black women. I’ve been developing two projects with them since late 2015.
RG: Anything else you would like to tell us?
LJS: My hope for opportunities in the city include sharing more of my experiences/narrative on a city/communal level. Specifically, what it was like to experience Sundance and SXSW and to work on the movie Mudbound
. Just to provide context and hopefully inspire people that want to embark these journey’s that anything is possible!
Mudbound is already on Netflix’s website here
Lastly, Open Projector Night at the UICA has been an awesome opportunity for new and experienced Michigan Filmmakers. Everything we show is actually required to have a tie-in to Michigan. The last big show of the year is August 16 and I’d love to extend a personal invitation to those that haven’t been but are curious to come check us out!
Catching up with Smith was a breath of fresh air for another long time resident of the city. She sees the city through different lenses and knows Grand Rapids intimately, so she can speak about it with both critique and love.
The words of James Baldwin come to mind when hearing Smith talk about her hopes for her industry’s growth in Grand Rapids, where Baldwin says “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually”
Smith dishes it out as it is, and chooses everyday to stay and make a change. This city is lucky to have one Lajanae Smith, let’s hope she succeeds in inspiring more just like her.
The date for Smith’s “Hollywood Pitch & Brunch” is August 13th and will go from 11AM-3PM at Chez Olga in Eastown
Smith’s company Cinema Bijon Enterprise
is a creative arts company focused on producing avant-garde digital multi-media content by and largely for women of color. Launched in 2017, founded in Grand Rapids, MI. The mission is to bring celebratory, thought-provoking stories to life in order to improve the self perception and external opinion of people of color. Specifically Black women. Respecting diversity in order to change our world for the better. These are new stories.
Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email [email protected] or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.