A grieving young filmmaker struggling with mental illness communes with the spirit of her vibrant friend with whom she shared an unbreakable bond to discover how even beyond death, their friendship lives on.
Smile4Kime is an experimental and autoethnographic documentary that uses animation to tell a story of friendship.
Smile4Kime is a timely, character-driven documentary that explores the taboo topics of sexual violence, trauma, and mental health through the perspectives of Black women. The film's story unfolds as a conversation between the two protagonists: Elena and Kime, best friends who commune with each other through Elena’s spiritual practice after Kime’s untimely death. The narrative arc of the film foregoes traditional linear modes of storytelling and instead throws viewers into different spaces and times. In flashbacks, we hear Kime reflect on her experience with trauma, depression, and sexual assault. In the present, we see Elena invoking the memory of Kime. The movement between the past and present happens through my altar, transporting the viewer into the past, to spiritual and dream worlds, and to future moments that were never realized. Animation becomes the creative tool by which the altar — and Kime — come alive. Memory and interactions with Kime’s spirit allow the audience to bear witness to Elena’s grieving process as she works to come to terms with her own trauma and mental health challenges. By the end of the film, we arrive at a new beginning; one where Kime’s and Elena’s friendship has transformed, and even in Kime's death, they continue to help each other grow stronger.
I started this film with Kime in 2016. The film intensified the bond we had with each other as we laughed, cried, and made plans to make a difference with it. Through our deep friendship, we were able to collaborate and show intimate spheres of Kime’s life. Her bluntness, her humor, the profound thoughts she shared on camera, and the intensity of the emotions were all a product of our relationship to each other.
I didn’t mean to make this film about grief and friendship after death. I wanted to make a film about mental health. But after Kime passed away last year, the shape and meaning of the film drastically shifted. I asked myself, can I and should I make this film without her? For many months, I thought about this question through my own grief and depression. Then I thought back to Kime's original goals for this film, which was to show our deep friendship and also have the film help and inspire others.
I understand now that my own story and connection to the film is deeply bound to what makes it special. I decided to move forward with it to honor Kime and her wishes with the blessing of her family. The film is now a way to reciprocate what she put into the film by exploring my own experiences with mental health and demonstrating how even after death, our friendship and bond continue, enduring through my daily spiritual practice — and now through this film.
Director Elena Guzman
Elena is an Afro-Boricua documentary filmmaker, educator, and anthropologist from the Bronx and Lower East Side of Manhattan. She received her Ph.D. from Cornell University and is currently a Mellon postdoctoral fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Visual Studies at Haverford College. She co-directed a film entitled Bronx Lives that explores homelessness for Latinx and African Americans in New York. Her work has shown at MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana and she has received grants from Scribe, Leeway Foundation, Cornell Council for the Arts, Society for the Humanities, and the 2020 Summer DocuLab sponsored by Haverford College. As a part of her work in film, she co-founded a feminist filmmaking collective called Ethnocine and is a producer of the podcast Bad Feminists Making Films.
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