Curtis Snow is a hard man to label. Some call him innovative, others call him brilliant, many will call him a criminal, but one thing’s for sure…he’s an artist the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
For starters, we don’t even know where he is. He could be in prison (many interviews with him following the release of his film Snow on tha Bluff were conducted in the visiting room at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia), he could be on the run, or he could be sitting in a mansion in Beverly Hills, laughing at all the hype.
Snow on the Bluff, a reality crime drama in which Snow (allegedly) has a friend record his day-to-day life as a cocaine dealer in “The Bluff,” an inner-city neighborhood in Atlanta known for its high crime rate and rampant drug use, has stirred much controversy since its premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival in Utah just over a year ago. When it was first screened in Atlanta, a riot broke out when movie-goers became enraged at the film’s supposed authenticity, especially over a scene in which a toddler sticks his hands into a bowl filled with cocaine and razor blades. The Atlanta Police Department has begun an investigation into the events of the film, as they seem to align perfectly with a series of break-ins in the same area where shooting took place. Snow claims in an interview with Maurice Garland that this is the reason for his most recent incarceration.
At times hilarious, scary, and downright heart wrenching, Snow in tha Bluff offers its viewers a never before seen look into the world of contemporary street life. It’s a no-holds-barred thrill ride that is sometimes completely indecipherable–its characters (or subjects, depending on how realistic you believe the film to be) speaking in a jargon that in no way could pass as English. However, Snow’s images speak louder than his words. The Bluff, or “Atlanta’s Forgotten Neighborhood,” as it is known in the region, is a powerful place to set a film. Poverty’s shadow lingers over every scene as the film’s characters manage their lives in a shell of urban decay, rubble, and trash. Graffiti lines overpasses and telephone poles, most of which, Snow points out as he loads a semi-automatic intended for a rival drug dealer, are make-shift memorials for women and children killed in gang-warfare.
The content of Snow on tha Bluff is unprecedented. Not since Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives have the true effects of poverty, segregation, and violence been thrown in the face of the mainstream media. Whether or not you agree with Snow’s lifestyle, tactics, or personal choices, he is a hero for documenting what he says “the world needs to see.”
So, how does an incredibly low-budget, controversial movie like Snow on tha Bluff gain a following?
Chris Knittel, one of the film’s producers, said in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine that he used a new concept to get the word out…”guerrilla marketing.” Noting the underground nature of the film, Knittel said
I would buy a couple hundred blank VHS tapes, copy a scene from the movie on it, throw the tape in the dirt, put some blood on it and seal it in a manilla envelope. From there, I would send out the tapes with no return address to politicians, conservative groups, police stations and various factions in the media.
Knittel referred to this process as “Operation Stir Up Shit.” Knittel continued with his marketing campaign and burned half-hour increments of the film onto thousands of blank DVDs, dropping them off at local Atlanta flea-markets where they were snatched up in droves. Word spread faster and faster, garnering the film a reputation and leaving its audience hankering for more. By the time the film reached the festival circuit, crowds of people were waiting desperately in line to see the continued story of Curtis Snow.
As we’ve moved further into the 21t Century, we’ve seen art go through a radical transformation. The old ways of marketing, filming, devising…they’re becoming more and more irrelevant as time goes on. Curtis Snow and his team have successfully managed a way to hold the mirror up to society in the most contemporary way possible. They’ve utilized technology, in some of the dirtiest ways, and have come out the other end with great art, a strong following, and an unbelievable story. Whether its film or theatre, artists today need to be more like Curtis Snow, utilizing every resource they have (and we have SO many) to reach out to the widest audience possible. These are stories that absolutely need to be told, and the sky’s the limit.