Ever since the phenomenal success of The Blair Witch Project, there seems to be a fascination as well as an eagerness to blur the lines between reality and fiction to keep an audience off guard as to what feelings to be drawn from what they are watching unfold on the screen in front of them. It can be effective marketing to boot. The recent success of Catfish as well as Exit through the Gift Shop and even the “is it or isn’t it real” I’m Still Here haven’t come without controversy surrounding how much of these films are true events versus how much is not.
I get a sense that we’ll be hearing more controversy from a film that recently screened at the Slamdance Film Festival from sometime Atlanta filmmaker Damon Russell. The film is called Snow on tha Bluff. The movie tells a story of Curtis Snow who lives in a rough Atlanta neighborhood. Director Damon Russell has a background in reality television which might explain his attraction as well as skill at making this story seem all too real for one to notice whether it’s truly a narrative film or simply captured footage from real life exploits.
I had an opportunity to talk with him about his latest project.
How did you become involved with this project?
2 years ago I got a call in the middle of the night from a drunken Curtis Snow. He had gotten my number from a friend of friend. He had heard that I was a filmmaker and that I worked in television and he wanted me to help him with some filming that he was doing. He sounded very passionate and I decided to meet with him. He and his friends had a little bit of footage that they had shot on their own that they showed me. It was some really intense stuff. So I started shooting with them. We eventually put everything together and made a film.
With the nature of ‘found footage’ and movies that blur the lines of reality seemingly in vogue these days. Were you concerned about how you should present the story?
Our movie is mostly documentary. There was never any worry about how to present the story because the story sort of told itself. We just had to be there to capture it.
With much of the story being real events, were you concerned with the ramifications of the crime aspects presented? Was there a line in your mind or in the course of filming the project that you were not willing to entertain crossing?
Yes, I was concerned. We have been contacted a few times by investigators from the Atlanta Police Department. Everything is sorted out now, but to protect myself and everyone in the movie, I don’t want to say too much about all of that.
I will say that while we were filming we were pulled over and searched by the police dozens of times, and we were even arrested once and had to spend a day in jail.
How was the reaction at Slamdance? Was the response what you expected or could you even guess at what the response might be?
Honestly, I didn’t have any idea how the film would be received because of the subject matter and the story. But the reaction was incredible. Slamdance is an amazing festival and the crowds were very receptive. People seemed to be genuinely affected by the film.
What are the next steps for the film and for you as a filmmaker?
I’ve got a few things in the works. I have a feature length documentary about my family that I’m shooting right now. I’m producing a short film that’s shooting in NYC next month. I just started shooting a new TV series for the Discovery Channel. And I’ve got a narrative TV project that I’m working on right now as well.