OAKLAND -- Filmmaker Sandra Smith has made her mark in the independent film industry in the Bay Area and now she is working to obtain worldwide recognition through her work.
Smith grew up in a small town in Louisiana, but moved to Oakland when she was 16. Her aunt told her there were movie stars everywhere and Smith, who had dreams of becoming an actress or a singer, said she jumped at the chance to come to the Bay Area.
Although she didn't find movie stars, Smith did find her passion in filmmaking when she watched a documentary on African-American female filmmakers on HBO.
"This is my niche," said Smith, who now lives in Antioch. "You have to be in a career or job that you love, because if you do you're going to put your all into it."
To further her dreams, Smith took performance and production classes at Laney College. Then, while working at an internship at Peralta TV, she produced her first short film, "The Sealed Letter," about a young black man living in West Oakland who receives an acceptance letter from college.
The film won for best show drama in the New York International Film Festival and screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Oakland International Film Festival, San Francisco Black Film Festival and Oakland Underground Film Festival.
"That's when my career really took off," Smith said. "From there I just had the film bug."
Smith continued pursuing her education after she received a scholarship from Laney to attend the Berkeley Digital Film Institute, where she studied for a semester. While there, she learned more about filmmaking in the Hollywood style.
Since then, she has produced two more short films, not counting the three documentaries and two music videos she has done over the past few years.
Those who know Smith say her passion and energy is what sets her apart from the many filmmakers coming out of the Bay Area.
"She's definitely a jewel that has been able to channel a lot of positive energy into being creative and telling stories," said David Roach, founding director of the Oakland International Film Festival. "I'm inspired by her."
Although Smith has had local success, she said she has bigger dreams of working with Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey and John Singleton, to name a few. She is also trying to get a major network to pick up her company, Tiger Eye Entertainment and Films.
However, no matter where her fame takes her, Smith said her ultimate goal is to produce work that will have a significant impact on the world.
"I'm on a journey to inspire, educate and uplift all people of color, not just my culture of people," Smith said. "I want to inspire everyone through my movies, to let people know if they have a dream you have to make it happen."
For now, Smith is busy promoting her latest film "Three Men and a Laptop," as well as preparing for the Cast Down Imagination TV Film Festival in November, where all of her work will be screened. Smith is also preparing to direct another movie called "Rule of Temptation," that was written by her nephew.
"I hope that she has the opportunity to share more of what's in her heart," said Elnora Webb, president of Laney College. "What's in her heart really reflects some of the best of who we are as humans."