City Paper is not for tourists
Growing up in Lanham, Md., Kirk Fraser didn’t know a whole lot about Rayful Edmond III. “You hear the name when you’re young, but I wasn’t raised in that environment,” he says.
For a kid growing up in middle-class Prince George’s County, the sort of urban neighborhood that fostered the District’s most notorious drug lord was awfully foreign. But in 1998, when Fraser was a young film student at Howard University and looking to do “something that would raise eyebrows,” the larger-than-life Edmond proved to be an irresistible subject. As Fraser, now 28, built a career in music videos over the following years, Edmond remained stuck in his mind.
Now Fraser is preparing to release a 90-minute documentary, The Life of Rayful Edmond III: The Movie, based on the travails of the notorious criminal.
From his boyhood home in Near Northeast, just south of Gallaudet University, Edmond ran a cocaine empire that authorities estimated generated $30 million in revenues over four years, before he was arrested on April 15, 1989. Edmond is in federal prison now—which one exactly isn’t public information—and he likely will be for the rest of his life. But his legend, however ambiguous, endures (“Running Low on Rayful,” 9/8/2000).
“A lot of people wanted to tell the story from the glamour point of view,” Fraser says. “I don’t want to be glamorizing a bad situation….At the end of the day, everyone’s a loser.”
Working off two years’ worth of savings from his production company, May 3rd Films (the date refers to his 6-year-old son’s birthday), Fraser began his research into Edmond in the middle of 2003, starting with news clippings, then moving to the transcripts and files from the 1989 federal trial. Freedom of Information Act requests yielded photos, wiretap tapes, surveillance videos, and FBI documents.
After searching out cops, lawyers, and others from the trial, Fraser approached a former friend (and co-defendant) of Edmond’s, Curtis “Curtbone” Chambers, who joined the project as an executive producer.
Chambers, who’s been a promoter and clothing entrepreneur since leaving prison in 1993, said plenty of other filmmakers had approached him about an Edmond movie before Fraser, but none had done their homework so well. And most, he says, were interested in lionizing Edmond, which Chambers wanted no part of. “I already lived through it, and I don’t want to be misunderstood [that I’m] promoting that,” he says. (Some of the film’s proceeds will go to 2200, Chambers’ nonprofit organization for troubled youth.)
Alongside testimony from investigators, lawyers, and other insiders, Chambers appears in the film as, he puts it, “someone who knew Ray’s personality more in depth,” he says. Besides the talking heads, the film—put together wholly in May 3rd’s Logan Circle offices—offers re-enactments of crucial scenes in the Edmond drama shot on 35-mm film.
Fraser hopes to film even more drama: his plan is to use the documentary as a springboard to a Hollywood feature about Edmond. Fraser and Chambers originally expected to self-distribute the documentary on DVD starting next month, but now companies including Warner Bros. are vying to distribute it nationally instead, and Fraser hopes to make a green light for a feature a condition for any deal.
For the moment, Fraser devotes most of his time to his next project: a documentary-feature combo on University of Maryland basketball star and cocaine-overdose victim Len Bias. First, though, he’s got to get the Rayful documentary released, he hopes by January. “I’m like a woman in the third trimester,” Fraser says, “and I want that baby out.”—Mike DeBonis