Features Last Updated: Aug 30th, 2007 - 13:04:09

Street Life
By Keith N. Dusenberry | photo by Keith N. Dusenberry
Jul 31, 2007, 11:38

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Raw Footage
Scenes from the Street Life

Two minutes after first meeting Dionciel “Donny” Armstrong, I was helping him unload handguns and kilos of cocaine from the back of his truck.

But it wasn’t like it sounds — they were props for Armstrong’s currently-in-production feature film, 5.K.1., starring Forty Da Great, Melvin Jackson, Clifton Powell and Quest McCody, which centers around street issues, the perils of the gangsta lifestyle and so-called “snitching,” due out early next year. “I’m putting the street life element into a feature film,” he says.

Armstrong knows street life well — he's probably the rawest filmmaker in The D, having been the man behind the legendary 2002 guns-drugs-death-and-rap documentary, Street Life, and the RapFiles series. “People have a misconception of street life: people think of pimps, people think of all this other stuff. They don’t think about that’s somebody’s father or mother or uncle shooting that in his veins, ODing — all kinds of stuff,” he says. “I had so much shit happen in front of me while I was shooting that documentary.”

It’s raw as hell. “People will ride down Joy Road or Seven Mile or Gratiot, and if they take one of those turns (down a side street), they’ll see the rawness of what people overlook,” Armstong says referencing the street meaning of “raw.” “Raw is just raw — you can’t get around it. You can’t clean it up. You can’t even make it look good — it’s just raw. Raw is crack and guns — and the end of the gun, you know what I’m sayin’? The morgue is raw. That’s as raw as you gonna get. As far as streets, that’s the end of the raw shit.”

Armstrong had his life threatened and guns pulled on him countless times during the filming, but it didn’t deter him. “Because I’m from that element, I know how to deal with it,” he says. “I gotta get the footage!” But much of the rawest stuff Armstrong shot has never seen release. Once, aided by a police scanner, he rolled up on the aftermath of a nightclub shooting before the cops arrived. “I see a dude laying there between these cars and I’m like, ‘Damn, there’s somebody laying there.’ So I walked over there — I’m recording — and the dude was gone. He was still breathing and stuff, but his head was gone.” On his lawyers’ advice, Armstrong destroyed tapes of some particularly troubling scenes filmed for Street Life without even considering their inclusion in the final cut.

Though he’s since moved on to feature films, Armstrong still sometimes hits the streets to capture footage for a potential new Street Life-style documentary — but he's not sure he’ll ever release this one. “I don’t know if I want to put it out,” Armstrong says, “‘cause number one, it’s gonna get compared to Street Life, which I know, with the footage that I have, it’ll kill Street Life with rawness; the problem is a story. Street Life had a direction to it … I don’t want people to see that just to see that. I want them to understand why they’re seeing that … A lot of people do DVDs and put it out there and it don’t mean shit: you just watched a whole bunch of people killin’ and beatin’ the hell out of each other. That’s good entertainment, but I don’t think that’s really good entertainment when that’s really somebody laying there dead in the morgue … I don’t want to put it out there until I’ve got content around it. I’m trying to get it to another level.”  | RDW

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