March 08, 2016

Author: Andrew Greenman, ’10

Storm Smith, '10, has carved out a name for herself as acclaimed visual storyteller and filmmaker within the deaf community. And it all began with a gentle nudge during her senior year from Dr. Jane Norman, '68, director and curator emerita of the Gallaudet University Museum, that would alter Smith's career path forever.

Smith completed a Special Topic: Video Art class project which caught the eye of Norman, then-chair of the Communication Studies department. "Most days, for lunch, I'd walk from my Kendall Hall office to the Student Center.  One morning, a video on the Campus Life monitor caught my attention. I was captivated by its originality and tracked down Storm," said Norman.  "I was impressed by her focus and creativity. She is a natural."

Norman encouraged Smith to submit a short film in the "student film" category for the WORLDEAF Cinema Festival, held November 2010 at Gallaudet. With only a week's notice, Smith was able to put a film together, titled Unveiled, which placed in the top five. From there, Smith was captivated.  "I felt like I found my hidden skills, that fire inside me, that inspiration to tell stories and to produce movies. There aren't many deaf people of color filmmakers, so I felt I could carve out a niche not yet met, while telling a story that was not yet told," said Smith.

Smith attended California State University, Northridge (CSUN) before transferring to Gallaudet in fall 2009 to earn a B.A. in psychology. She began working as a student assistant in spring 2011 with the Office of Enrollment Marketing (now University Communications), eventually growing into her current role as video producer and director.

She also continued to produce content on her own.  Following Unveiled, she completed three, feature length films: Inbounds, a basketball themed movie; Evolution, a dance drama; and Roulette, a psychological thriller. These films have received recognition at deaf film festivals, including a prestigious "Rising Star" award nomination at the Rochester Deaf Film Festival in 2011 for Inbounds, a fictional drama featuring the Gallaudet women's basketball team. The story deals with life decisions on and off the court while weaving in team dynamics. She also earned third place in the "Big Idea's Video Pitch Competition" during Global Entrepreneurship Week, held at American University (AU) in November 2015.

Through filmmaking, Smith wants to contribute to the national dialogue about racism, audism and other forms of discrimination.  She wants to promote discussion about deaf women of color, believing that members of this cultural group are simply absent in today's filmmaking field.

Smith began lecturing in the spring of 2014 to further encourage dialogue. Her first presentation was at UCLA at the invitation of Benjamin Lewis, '06 & G-'12, an accomplished deaf lecturer and teacher. In Lewis's course, Mass Media in the Deaf Community, Smith, after a screening of Roulette, shared her experiences as a deaf woman of color in the filmmaking industry to a group of 80 students.  "She discussed her journey through the industry, and the challenges and rewarding experiences that came with it," said Lewis. "I have known Storm since my graduate studies at Gallaudet. I have seen her work, and I am always impressed by her technique and style, specifically the way she presents her work through the lens of a black deaf woman."

Smith also presented at CSUN, Boston University, and Harvard University, touching upon topics such as psychology, intersectionality, and how themes in her films can be applied to real life situations. 

At DEAFestival Los Angeles 2014, Smith was co-master of ceremonies with ABC Family's (now Freeform) Switched at Birth star Ryan Lane. She was honored with an award for her contributions to the deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing communities.

Wrapping up her last semester at AU toward a master's degree in media entrepreneurship, Smith wants to later obtain a certificate in either visual design, which incorporates design principles together such as font pairings and visual user-friendliness while remaining accessible to all users, or user experience design (UX), which concentrates on optimizing visual products based on customer needs to improve customer experiences.

In 2008, Smith launched Thunderography, originally an online outlet for her interest in photography.  After discovering her passion for filmmaking, Thunderography became her production company, where she shares her productions and collaborates on social media. Though she currently hesitates to exactly determine her future plans, Smith entertains the idea of Thunderography becoming a full-time business venture. As the focus of her capstone program at AU, she also wants to incorporate video projection mapping and holograms relating with language access for ASL users.

Smith has led marketing projects, including national advertising such as three commercials shown during Switched at Birth in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Also, Smith was assigned to produce a national commercial for Gallaudet to help increase enrollment. The commercial featured general student life, incorporating then-campaigns of "Imagine Yourself Here" and "I'm In."  Lately, Smith is working with Mara Ladines-Reyes, fashion designer and owner of the deaf-owned ByMara, and will expand upon that collaboration. Smith will serve as creative director for Ladines and develop several marketing projects for ByMara's upcoming clothing line.

Click here to view some of Smith's video work, including trailers from her films Inbounds, Evolution, and Roulette. She will also do occassional showings of her work, along with presentations.