New Film Highlights Violence in Wilmington's Streets
by Gentle Jones
Delaware is not known for its burgeoning film industry, but patrons of Theater N in Wilmington and the Rehoboth Film Festival know that Ryan Phillipe is not the only local talent on the big screen. Rennie Rox has released a new movie filmed entirely in Wilmington titled "The Game of Death", a fictional crime drama based on the director's real life experience in the city. The filmed debuted at Theater N located in the hotel DuPont and was officially released this month.
Rennie chose his story because he feels it is relevant, considering the current climate of the city, "The Wilmington homicide situation in the streets is out of control, the city is currently under like a terrorist siege. The majority of them go unsolved. This is where I live, I see the situation first hand. Within the last 2 years I can count 10 people that I had a personal friendships with that were murdered in the streets in the City of Wilmington," explains Rennie. "It had to be this film, it is my responsibility as a filmmaker to document this era of what's going on."
"The Game of Death" is a gritty tale which pits street level drug dealers against each other and the Wilmington Police Department. In this story the distinction between good guys and bad guys is blurred. There is a crooked cop Lieutenant Smitty, played by Jimmy Wardell, who forces street hustlers to move his product. There is a sympathetic drug dealer who seems caught up in a life which is doomed to be short and violent, played by Clark Bar (starring as himself). Detective Strickland, played by the director's brother Wize Dome, is prepared to go above the law to protect his home town. Though the violence is underplayed, the perils of the drug game and its accompanying street shootings are clear throughout the film.
The dialogue is what drives the story and is full of Wilmington-isms which faithfully capture our local dialect. Shadiq Granville provides an excellent performance as Dt. Brown, stealing scenes with well timed facial expressions. The funniest moments in the film are captured in the streets, with the playful banter of killers hanging on the corner while they await their next instructions. Delawareans will recognize local landmarks such as Kelley's Logan House, Brandywine Park, Little Italy, Untouchables Barbershop in Elsmere, as well as numerous locations scattered across Wilmington's Northside. Rennie wanted to showcase his home state in a manner that would have world-wide appeal, "Its an unknown landscape in the world, with its own unique feel. We have so much potential for greatness but nobody knows about it." With Delaware in the White House national attention has focused on the state and Rennie hopes this project can transcend to the world stage.
For the past two years Rennie has released a string of Delaware Hip-Hop dvd's which feature scorching performances by hometown favorites like Antbadant, Shizz Nitty, Pretty Thugger, Pops, and Bobby Dimes. He is currently shooting music videos for Delaware artists and writing his next script to film for "The Game of Death" series. Rennie says they took a brief hiatus for the sake of one of the film's stars, "Clark Bar was shot 10 times last year. Right now he is rehabilitating from an operation. He had a problem with his stomach, after the shooting it wasn't healing right so they had to operate and fix that." explains the director.
Rennie Rox has had his own setbacks growing up in Wilmington. "As a young teenager I fell into the fast money, the drug game. I ended up doing some crimes, robberies, I got sentenced 10 years on a home invasion, served 8 years on that. I came home and wasn't ready for me freedom, I got 3 more years on a drug trafficking charges." Since he was 19 years old the director, now 35, has served a total of 11 years in prison.
Subsequent to being released Rennie set about to turn his life around and immersed himself into creative projects. He recorded a rap album along with several dvd's which have been well received in the community. After reaching out to the mayor's office he was assisted by Bev Zimmerman who put him in contact with the Delaware Independent Filmmakers organization. DIF helped him set up a schedule to show the film on more screens this summer. He plans on taking his new release to the Rehoboth film festival as well as several other regional festivals, in association with Delaware based Film Brothers.
Unsure of how to get permission to shoot a crime drama, complete with fake police, fire arms, and shoot outs, Rennie and company went out and just shot the film without telling anyone what they were doing. "Our scenes were so realistic that bystanders thought they were seeing something real, even with them seeing the camera right there. We were filming in Brandywine Park, dumping a "dead" body, and people were driving by with eyes the size of 50 cent pieces saying 'Oh my God!'" recalls Rennie.
Jimmy "Jam" Wardell, who stars as the bad Lt. Smitty, recalls the filming the climax, the gunpoint murder of one of the film's main characters, "They shot 9 blanks and we filmed that, and every house up and down the streets turned their lights on, like dominoes! We still had to film him lying there from a few different angles so we were their for a while and thought for sure the police would be there any minute asking what we were doing."
Director Rennie Rox says the film is close to him because he is writing from his own experiences, "The movie has a purpose, it is addressing the Wilmington homicide situation in a cinematic way. It is fiction, but it is a creative story that is based on reality," he explains. "The movie is about Karma, because what goes on in these streets comes back at you."
Since releasing the film Rennie has partnered with Wilmington Community leader Tyerin Griffin to put together a Stop the Violence movement. They recently had their first community meeting at Official Cuts Barbershop on 24th and Market which was well attended. He also hosts a Hip-Hop open mic every Monday night from 8pm to10pm at Prices Lanes bowling alley on Kirkwood Highway with Shizz Nitty and D-Rock.
The dvd "The Game of Death" is available at the One Stop Hip-Hop Shop on 4th and Orange streets in Wilmington.
The Wilmington Police Department did not respond to requests for comment on the film.