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A word of advice to foreign filmmakers who get hooked on Liberty City: Please stop opening your masterpieces with chintzy B-rolls of tourists frolicking on South Beach and then cutting away to bleak footage of a morbid roadside memorial or homeless people. It's hackneyed, dammit!
Hopefully, Shanks Rajendran takes heed when he recuts his four-part YouTube documentary called Liberty City: Miami — the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Because aside from the ubiquitous "beyond Miami's glitzy white sandy beaches is a grimy black underworld" intro, the 26-year-old Australian filmmaker has actually found a wonderful cast of lifetime Liberty City denizens willing to share their tales on film.
Rajendran, who goes by the nomme de Internet "Gorilla Shanks," tells Riptide he shot the footage over three weeks in November after becoming fascinated with Miami's less privileged neighborhoods.
"I remember being told by a taxi driver that he would never drive to Liberty City," Rajendran recalls. "Other Miami residents said, 'Stay away from Liberty City.' That appealed to me as a filmmaker."
There's no question Rajendran has a knack for spinning gritty urban tales from real characters. Take Will Kilm, an aspiring 20-something rapper who acts as a neighborhood guide through most of the documentary. Kilm first enters the frame after a quick shot of a boarded-up three-story apartment building on NW 71st Street at 15th Avenue, where he says he once peddled crack.
Kilm's most gripping tale might be of a crime the night before Valentine's Day. "I ain't gonna lie to ya," he says, looking at the camera. "I am coked up. I am peaked up... It's 2, 3 in the morning when I hear a ruckus." He looked out the window to see a man standing over another. "I hear dude say, 'Please don't kill me,' " Kilm chillingly relates. "When I looked, I seen dude shoot the other dude four times — killed the man at point-blank range."
Rajendran's movie also takes viewers on a tour of landmarks such as the Liberty City Flea Market, the remnants of the James E. Scott projects, and the shuttered Hampton House, the hotel where some of the most famous African-American entertainers stayed during the segregation era.
The Aussie director says he plans to recut the film for a DVD using unreleased footage. In the meantime, check out YouTube for a unique take on Miami's realest neighborhood.