"From the start of “Snow on tha Bluff,” which runs without any introductory credits, this jolt of a film drops into a you-are-there crime scene: Three college students — one manning a video camera — drive into the Bluff, a run-down neighborhood in West Atlanta (actually, run-down is being kind), looking to buy drugs. A dealer approaches the car, smoothly talks his way in, directs them to a secluded street, then, pulling out a handgun, robs them of their money and — why not? — the camera.
The dealer, Curtis Snow, steals one other thing too: the idea of filming everything he does. So we tour the Bluff while he introduces his crew, his baby mama and two toddlers, his grandmother, the street corner where his brother was fatally shot. We also learn about Snow’s business: selling drugs that are largely supplied, it seems, by ripping off other dealers at gunpoint during late-night raids. “They say drugs kill you,” he says to the camera, before disagreeing: “They help you out. They pay the rent.”
This riveting account of thug life — the unglamorous, impoverished variety — is punctuated by constant profanity and undecipherable slang, occasional violence, steady drinking and weed or crack smoking. No one seems to have a steady job, and there’s no shaking the sense of wasted souls in a forsaken sector of society.
Often makers of feature films using a documentary’s tools — hand-held cameras, jumpy cuts, ambient lighting, fragmented narrative — say they do so to approximate reality. The makers of “Snow on tha Bluff” flip that reasoning. Because the footage is so raw, they say, the Atlanta police sought it as evidence in some criminal investigations. The director, Damon Russell, initially coy about what was real and what was scripted, now emphasizes that “Snow on the Bluff” isn’t a record of actual events, that it’s just another lo-fi indie film, like “The Blair Witch Project.” Nothing to see here, officer.
That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it. Make no mistake, though: real or not, there’s plenty to see."