Cauleen Smith was born in Riverside, California and grew up in Sacramento, California. She received a BA from San Francisco State University from The School of Creative Arts in 1989. She earned an MFA from The School of Theater-Television-Film, University of California, Los Angeles in 1998.  She is currently assistant professor in the department of Media and Performing Arts at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, MA after holding an assistant professor position at the University of Texas at Austin in the department of Radio-TV-Film for five years.

Her short film Daily Rains (1990) was selected for Sundance Film Festival in 1991. Another short, Chronicles of a Lying Spirit By Kelly Gabron (1991), was the only film at the 1991 The Robert Flaherty Film Seminar Exhibition to screen twice by audience demand. In 1993, Smith was invited by the San Francisco Cinemateque to create a site-specific installation which was then adapted as part of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Inaugural Show.  In 1994, Cauleen Smith was awarded funding from the Rockefeller Inter-Cultural Media Arts Fellowship, the American Film Institute Independent Film and Videomaker Program, the National Black Programming Consortium, and a Western States Regional Fellowship which she used to write, direct and produce her first narrative feature film, Drylongso (1998).

Drylongso was selected for the American Spectrum of Sundance Film Festival, won an honorable mention from the Hamptons Film Festival, and Best Feature Film at Urbanworld, and the Los Angeles Pan-African film festival. In 1999 Cauleen Smith was chosen as one of  “Variety” magazine’s “10 Directors to Watch”. She was awarded the Movado Someone to Watch Award by the Los Angeles IFP Independent Spirit Awards.

Smith’s experimental science-fiction short, The Changing Same (1998), was programmed in the 2001 exhibition “Race in Digital Space” at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that show traveled on to the Studio Museum of Harlem, winter 2002. In 2003, The Changing Same, along with another short White Suit (1997) were programmed into the international Afrofuturist show “Black to the Future” at  Cinema De Baile the Netherlands, Amsterdam. The films also aired on Dutch television station Kunstkanaal in November of 2003.

In 2001 Smith’s screenplay, I Am Furious Black was selected for the Sundance Lab Writer’s Lab 2001, then again for the Sundance Lab Director’s Lab 2001. She adapted Martha Southgate’s sophomore novel, Third Girl From the Left for the screen, the project is currently in development with Kerrie Washington attached. Smith is currently developing a feature length project, Rebecca (Working Title) to be produced in Lagos Nigeria. Development funding has been provided by Art Matters Foundation.

In 2005, Smith was honored to receive Technology support grant from The National Video Databank for the preservation of earlier work. She also received a Texas Film Production Fund grant from The Austin Film Society for a series of film-portraits of artists and art facilitators in Austin, Texas entitled The Nebula Project. After two attempts, over two semester, the senior engineering students built a prototype of an apparatus that can hold over one thousand feet of 16mm film in the air in one continuous loop. The prototype debuted at MASS Gallery in Austin Texas for one night onlyin May of 2007.  Smith plans on continue the portraiture process from city to city wherever she resides. 

Cauleen Smith’s short films are distributed by Canyon Cinema. Her feature length film is available for rental exclusively at Hollywood Video stores nationwide.