I spoke on Snow On Tha Bluff about a year or so ago when it was just a bootleg movie floating around in the West End. Since then, the film has garnered press, won awards and is now on sale on Netflix, Amazon and at WalMart. So yeah, the movie is “blowing up.”
Of course, for every person that likes the movie, there’s two who hate it and three who are just like “WTF?” I probably fall somewhere between the like and “WTF” category.
Since the movie originally came out, I’ve been meaning to interview people involved around it, but the timing was never good. But, earlier this week I was able to catch up with the movie’s star, Curtis Snow. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very hard to nail down. He was in jail.
In our conversation (that was interrupted twice because of jail phone restrictions) we talked about the response to the movie since its graduated from the bootlegger to the mainstream. He told me some of what was real and what was fake as well as some of the footage he actually left out of the movie.
In talking to him, I also wanted to tell a story that added a bit of context to the film. Judging from how all of my friends and associates from outside of Atlanta hit me on Gchat or text with “snow on the bluff, WTF?!?” right after they watch it, I’m figuring people feel like they are watching just another hood movie that glorifies the ills of our community. Truth is, yeah, there is some pretty sketchy behavior in the movie, but all of it has a origin and a reason why.
I did the interview/piece for Loop21.com (are ya’ll f*cking with me over there, we’re writing some dope sh*t), but I will post it here as well. Check it out after the jump.
Each decade, a new “hood movie” seems to come along that becomes the talk of the town it was filmed in, and eventually of the entire country.
In the 90s, we saw cinematic releases like “Boyz in Da Hood,” “Menace II Society” and “South Central” capture the stories of people living in impoverished neighborhoods riddled with gangs, drugs and violence. In the 2000s, we saw independent filmmakers go guerrilla and make documentaries like “Hood 2 Hood,” where instead of actors, the stars are the actual people who are living the lives that the “hood” movies are based on.
Now, in 2012, there comes a film that blends both acting and reality and blurs the line between the two, “Snow on Tha Bluff.” And its star, Curtis Snow, who is currently sitting in jail on charges stemming from events related to the film.
The film begins with chaos as Snow, a low-level drug dealer and “jack boy,” snatches a video camera from three college students who are trying to buy drugs from him. From there, Snow returns to his neighborhood, “Tha Bluff,” where he films events that are common and everyday for him, like smoking weed, drinking liquor, robbing other drug dealers and shooting up houses in revenge. Snow takes part in all four activities in the film. The film also showcases Snow’s relationship with his grandmother, his son, Little Curtis, and the mother of his child, who was killed in 2005.
The film is based in a west Atlanta area officially nicknamed “the Bluff,” a forgotten corner of the larger English Avenue community that rests between the equally notorious Vine City and Bankhead neighborhoods. The area is walking distance from where the Atlanta Falcons play and just a short ride from where Georgia Tech, Spelman and Morehouse students attend classes. Both former presidential candidate Herman Cain and singer Gladys Knight called the area home before things took a turn for the worst 30 years ago when the Bluff became known as a hub for heroin and prostitution.
Its reputation has earned it the acronym “Better Leave, U F***ing Fool” among locals. The area is little known because it’s rarely mentioned. It doesn’t get shouted out in rap songs by Ludacris. News cameras are afraid to go there. On the rare occasions it gets coverage, the area is usually called “Atlanta’s forgotten community.” And for as much gentrification and new building that has taken place in Atlanta since the 1996 Olympic Games, the Bluff has remained overlooked, untouched and built around.
“It’s certain streets you can’t even walk on period,” Snow said Tuesday evening during a telephone interview from the Fulton County jail, where he had been held since July as a result of events related to the film. “Even when I’m walking around, sometimes I have to make it known that it’s me. Or when I have people with me, I have to let folks know that they with me and they not the police. But if you in the Bluff, you have to have a reason to be over there, and it’s usually because you’re up to no good. If you live there, ok. But if you’re a visitor, you have to be with somebody who has a name that rings a bell, to make you official. If they don’t recognize you, they going to want to see what’s going on.”
Snow’s incarceration may seem like life imitating art. But the line between the scripted and the reality as it concerns Snow’s life — like in the movie itself — is blurred. First off, Snow is not an actor. He is an actual person you could see on the block if you drove past it. Second, much of the footage includes scenes Snow not only filmed, but in which Snow himself stars.
“First, we did a little rough draft of me in the ‘hood kicking it, waiting on random s**t to happen,” Snow said. “Then as time went on, we wound up capturing a lot of real s**t. The other stuff we freestyled and came off the top with it.”
The film has been called a street version of “The Blair Witch Project” because of how director and former “First 48” producer Damon Russell II shot the film. Filmed entirely with a low-budget hand-held camera, it is hard at times for viewers to tell what’s real and what’s fake.
In fact, events shown in the film stirred so much controversy that the Atlanta Police Department launched an investigation and interviewed the filmmakers under suspicion that events in the movie were related to a string of actual robberies in the area.
The images captured in the film have been at the root of a back-and-forth between people living in the Bluff who want to change the area for the better, and those who are seen to be dragging it down.
“We want people to know that it’s safe to come into English Avenue,” state Rep. Mable Thomas told reporters in December 2011.
But the buzz surrounding “Snow on The Bluff” has only grown since its original release in 2010, when the most common way of getting one’s hands on the film was by getting a bootleg copy off the streets or at the local corner store in Atlanta. Since then, it has been viewed at the venerable Slamdance Music Festival, as well as at the Atlanta Film Festival, where it won the award for 2011 Best Feature Film. However, it was also at the Atlanta event that the debate over the film boiled over when some members of the audience took offense at some of the film’s portrayals, prompting a scuffle between them and people involved with the movie.
“For the record, no punches were thrown,” Snow said. “But, there were a couple of audience members who didn’t like the scene where I was in the kitchen cutting up dope with my son with me. They didn’t like the way that scene was shot, but that happens every day in the hood. That’s why I put that in there. It was just a re-enactment. None of those drugs were real.”
Impressed by what was real in the film, actor Michael K. Williams (aka Omar from HBO’s “The Wire”) signed on as an executive producer in 2012. Since Williams’ involvement, the movie has been repackaged and distributed via Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Netflix.
What was real and what fake in the movie? Snow reveals only some details: “I vowed to never tell.”
But as more people discover the movie and form their own opinions, Loop 21 caught up with the man caught up in the middle of it all.
Loop 21: Did you think the film was going to blow up when you made the movie?
Curtis Snow: I knew it was going to have a buzz because it was made to look so real. I knew people were going to wonder if it was real or fake. I knew if one person seen it, the word was going to get out. But not this big.
Loop 21: So, what was real and what was fake?
Snow: I vowed to never tell. But, I’ll give you a little bit of it. The fight with the two girls in the car, that was absolutely real. I didn’t know that was going to happen. When I said my baby mama got killed, where that pole was, that was real. She got killed in 2005, she got hit with a chopper [shot with a gun]. That other part when I was talking about my brother getting killed, that was real. He got shot shot three times in 2007. And that was my real grandmother and real son in the movie.
Loop 21: There’s been a lot of praise and criticism of the movie. What were you trying to get across in making it? Were you trying to make a change, or make some change?
Snow: I knew was going to have a lot of critics. The movie is made to f**k with your emotions. That’s my whole point.
Loop 21: Do you think the film can have a negative impact on efforts to change or help the neighborhood?
Snow: Not really. The bull**** that’s been going on over there been going on for 30 years. The movie just shows people who always wondered what was going on over there what really happens. The Bluff is a known manufacturing spot for heroin. All I did was show what’s going on.
Loop 21: Did you ever have any aspirations outside of selling dope?
Snow: Not really. It seems like as soon as I opened my eyes I was born into it. I was already 25 years deep in the dope game because of my uncles. By the time I realized what was going on, I was living in a dope house. My mother had five children and had to live with her brother, so I was already in it.
Loop 21: What would you say to people that say the film is giving the city and surrounding area a bad name?
Snow: Really, the police and the activists who say we need to make s**t better are never anywhere to be found. They stay way out in Sandy Springs and don’t give a f**k about what goes on. While they’re sleep, s**t is still going on. They tend to brush it off, but it’s never forgotten.
Loop 21: Why do you think the Bluff hasn’t been bulldozed and gentrified yet? Atlanta has a reputation for doing that to poor neighborhoods since the Olympics in 1996.
Snow: I don’t know really. They come and build houses, but as soon as they build them people break in and steal the copper, sinks and wiring. The people who build them don’t do nothing but cash in, they take the insurance out and get paid off of that, so that’s a scam too. If you build anything over there it’s going to get f****d up. People are getting paid off the poverty over there.
Loop 21: How did the relationship with Michael K. Williams come about?
Snow: I guess one day him and his crew were watching the movie and they got in touch with us. It’s a lot of other people who wanted to get involved, but they never came to the hood to holler at me. But he called and said he coming down to the hood. I thought it was all talk. But his crew showed up, and I gave them a tour. I took them to the community center, took them around for two hours straight. He said he never saw no s**t like that and didn’t grow up like that. But he liked what he saw because he could relate to it in someways. He got stabbed up a couple times, so we laughed about our stab cuts. But he was a cool guy though, he came through and showed love.
Loop 21: Are you hands-on with the business dealings of the film?
I’m hands-on but I got a team who is 100 percent and making sure things get handled. I didn’t do too much advertisement until I got some people who I knew were legit. I didn’t tell too many of those haters what I was doing because a lot of people were trying to do something similar. I kept it underground all the way to this point. I didn’t have any copyrights or nothing, I was just a [guy] from nowhere with tape of a bunch of s**t going on.
Loop 21: Did you have any problems with people or police when you were walking around with a camera?
Snow: That’s a part of the reason why I’m in jail right now. A lot of people didn’t want to be on camera, but they wanted to stand around and see what … I was doing. They was like “Don’t put me on that s**t” but then they want to talk s**t behind my back, so I had to get back with them. I also had a lot of tape of the police around here, I was trying to catch them doing dirty s**t. They was doing a lot of hating, saying don’t put me on camera. They were around here trying to talk to the young girls, when they supposed to be on the beat. I wanted to expose [them]. Then some people wanted to do crazy s**t like pull out guns, but I told them don’t do that, you don’t want to incriminate yourself. That’s why I left a lot of stuff out.
Loop 21: What are you in jail for?
Snow: I had the camera outside. It was 95 degrees that day. We was playing in the fire hydrant and…
Curtis’ manager interjects, says that he isn’t advised to talk about the case since it is still pending. According to the Fulton County inmate database, Snow has been locked up since July on charges of battery, criminal trespass, false imprisonment and marijuana possession. In the days since the Loop 21 interview took place, Curtis has been transferred to another facility and hopes to be released within the next two weeks.
Loop 21: What did you leave out of the movie?
Snow: I had some fights that got out of hand. I had some shootings on there, but I can’t put that out, I’m not trying to be no witness to no crime. I see and I don’t see it. We had young girls who wanted to take off their clothes for the camera, but I wasn’t about to do that. I wasn’t about to get sued or arrested …. I’m glad I left a lot of that s**t out because I’d probably be in a lot more trouble than I am now.
Loop 21: Are you going to make more films?
Snow: I got a whole lot of stuff in the mix right now. I got parts 2 through 6 already made. It’s going to be like that movie “Saw.” I got footage for days, but I just got to get it right and get people behind me for it. People want more, so I have to give it to them. I have a book coming out as well. It’s going to be an autobiography, raw uncut. When I get out, I’m going to be starting my nonprofit to give back to the community as well.
Loop 21: How much money has been made?
Snow: I don’t really have any papers on how much has been sold on Netflix, iTunes, Playstation or Walmart. I’ll know on October 19. I’m thinking its sold about 100,000. It’s selling a lot on bootleg though, but none of that money goes to me.
Loop 21: In promo clips for the movie, you said you’ve never left your hood. Never been to Six Flags, Whitewater or anything. Do you plan on leaving your hood when you get out of jail?
Snow: Oh yeah, man. I have to take my son. Everything I never did, I have to make sure my son gets to do it and I have to be there to do it. My son is all I got.