by Keith Barber

Life can turn on a dime sometimes. When Sam Smartt’s spring break plans fell through, he adapted and made productive use of his time. Smartt, a senior at Wake Forest, spent last week documenting the personal stories of several of the Winston-Salem Downtown Rescue Mission’s clients with his Canon XL-2 video camera. During the four-day shoot, arranged by Wake faculty adviser Max Negin, Smartt said he met several people whose lives were forever altered by a simple twist of fate. “Stereotypes are tossed aside when you realize these are real people with real stories,” Smartt said. “It’s a combination of bad choices and bad breaks. We’re all doing the same thing — just trying to get by. It’s only by the grace of God that I am where I am.” Mike Foster, the mission’s development director, said his greatest hope is that Smartt’s sentiment can be communicated through the power of film. Foster called the Wake Forest Film

Studies Department last summer as part of an effort to update the mission’s website. Foster’s idea was straightforward: Add a video component to the website so the community could see the success stories of the Rescue Mission’s clients. Foster’s primary responsibility is spreading the good word about the work the mission does in the community. It’s challenging to sum up all that good work in a four- to five-minute video vignette, but Foster believes video is the best medium to document the mission’s successes, as well as its challenges in the current recession. “We’ve been here 42 years but there are still a lot of folks that are unaware of what we do,” Foster said. “We really felt like adding the video component would give a good sense of what the ministry is all about.” Smartt conducted seven interviews over the course of four shooting days and shot hours of footage. In the course of his work, Smartt met Everette, a member of the inaugural class of the rescue mission’s Transformers program.

“The thing that’s striking about Everette is his humility,” Smartt said. “A guy that comes into the shelter really has to be at his lowest point to accept the help that is being provided. Everette is someone who is completely honest with you. He says, ‘It’s only through the grace of God that this change is occurring in my life.’” Foster said Everette’s annihilation of his ego is his first step toward a better life. Humility served as a common thread in all the client stories captured on film, Smartt said. Now, Smartt must take hours and hours of footage and whittle it down to five precious minutes. “I really could make six different videos but I have to pick the one that says the most about the mission and gets the main points across effectively and quickly,” Smartt said.

In his role as development director, Foster spends a good deal of his time speaking to church congregations, conferences and student groups. Foster believes Smartt’s documentary will have a true emotional impact that will transcend any other presentation by the ministry. “It’s the best way for us to get the word out,” Foster said. “The medium of video can tell the story a lot better than I can.” Foster said he hopes that Everette’s story makes the final cut. “For 30 years, drugs dictated Everette’s life. Once he came to us, he finally realized ‘I’m completely broken. I’m clay, you can mold me,’” Foster said. “Everette’s story is very typical of mission clients. It’s the kind of story we like to see and the type of ending we like to see.”