Snow on tha Bluff creeps from outside of the hood looking in, as three college students venture out of their comfort zones and into the hood – armed with all the fears, urban legends, and preconceptions of the ghetto on their sleeves. The students fear being carjacked in downtown Atlanta, but their desire to capture the real-life hood on camera and get some drugs while they’re at it, outweighs their fears. So in they go, fingers crossed and wearing nervous middle class smiles, silently reassuring themselves that nothing will go down.
They meet Curtis Snow on the street corner, who at first, seems like a pleasant enough drug dealer. Curtis hustles his way into their car and in a matter of minutes, their fears are realized when he robs them of their money and video camera, though the students do manage to escape with their health and car in tact.
Now the proud owner of a new gadget, Curtis turns the camera inward as if to say: if these college kids thought my world was so interesting, then who best to show it, but me? He begins in the making of a documentary about his life – complete with its drug raids, its baby momma drama, and its jail sentences. Snow reeks of the kind of dirty laundry most blacks frown upon with a moment’s mention, without taking a step further to judge the book by its content as opposed to its cover.
Snow deserves that further step.
The film reminds us that what for some are stereotypes, are for others ingrained circumstances of everyday life. The Bluff, an acronym for “Better Leave You Fucking Fool,” is a crime-ridden neighborhood in Atlanta, ranked in 2010 as the #1 most dangerous neighborhood in the city and cracking the top 5 list of most dangerous neighborhoods in the United States. The film depicts an Atlanta tougher than the Tyler Perry version we’ve grown accustomed to seeing that makes even Chris Robinson’s ATL (2006) look soft.
As in the opening scene, Curtis pounces on the unsuspecting. He ekes out a living as a stick-up man, robbing dealers and selling their stashes. However, one out-of-towner does not so easily submit to defeat and exacts revenge on Curtis and his close network. The twist of fate arises when Curtis becomes the unsuspecting victim of the very violence he enacts upon others.
The vicious cycle of violence respects no boundaries. Lines are crossed, lives are lost, daily victims become the neighborhood’s casualties of the cross fire.
Beyond the expected violence and drugs is an unexpected side of Curtis – his philosophical side.
Returning to his neighborhood after four months in the Fulton County Jail, Curtis reminisces upon the streets he wasn’t sure he would ever see again. The sun is brighter, the food tastes better, the air feels warmer. During these hours, he appreciates life at its simplest. Perhaps such an outlook is appropriate for residents of the Bluff, an area which shows little signs of commercial activity besides a corner store and a liquor store. Entertainment one afternoon is rolling a bowling ball down the middle of a street and watching whether it crosses the intersection (strike!) or rolls off the curb towards the liquor store (gutter).
Curtis’s philosophy extends to a logic that justifies crime and violence as the only viable methods of survival in the ghetto. He says: “This is the way it happens in the streets. Either you gon’ be the one doing it or it’ll get done to yo ass. It gotta happen one of those ways.” And later, “Drugs kill but they help you out if you ain’t got no job.” To summarize, if you can’t get out, sometimes the only way to get through it all only gets you deeper in.
Director Damon Russell, in following Curtis’s life, provides us with our way in, as voyeurs to a world of risk and uncertainty we’d much rather experience through the big or small screen than in the flesh. Ultimately, Curtis decides to transcend his world by using his hustle for bigger and better things, by putting his life on screen. This marks Curtis’s transition (if only temporary) into the legitimate marketplace.
Snow on tha Bluff is probably what 90s hood films like Boyz N tha Hood (1991) and Juice (1992) would have been without million dollar budgets and celebrity casts. With a genuine dose of Southern slang that makes most black folks run for subtitles, the film blurs the lines between documentary and reality drama. Whether it’s reality or fiction depends on who’s asking. If ATLPD wants to know, then the movie is absolutely, positively NOT a record of actual events, but rather pure, unadulterated fiction. Chances are if you catch Snow or Russell off the record, you may find an answer somewhere closer to the truth.
Screenplay: Damon Russell, Curtis Snow
Cast: Curtis Snow, Adrienne Lockett, Curtis Lockett, Pancho, Young Blo