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To find the ICE Group, you must travel to one of the less-touristy parts of D.C.: up Minnesota Avenue, past East Capitol Street and the Greenway Plaza some call “dope central,” behind a gated, padlocked former restaurant called Al’s Fish Bowl, down the alley, and through two bolted, massive metal doors that look like surplus from the U.S.S. Missouri. Here, in two expansive, windowless rooms, four friends are trying to become famous in the burgeoning multimedia world, to provide hope for a struggling community and, possibly, to change the social fabric of the city.
But first, breakfast.
Between bites of a turkey sandwich, Chris Williams discusses several topics, including his childhood, domestic politics, middle-class African-Americans, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the group’s controversial new documentary on the District, Black Ice: The Movie.
Critics argue that the film perpetuates stereotypes of urban African-American life: drugs, drinking, guns. The filmmakersWilliams, Eric Van Buren, Eric Jones, and Gabriel Forbesdismiss that criticism. They’re just showing reality, they say, exposing the D.C. many people don’t see. Becauseeven as the city is recovering financially and its population is growing”we’re still dying,” Williams says.
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After the May 1999 murder of their friend Raj Ali Brooks, the four filmmakers came together intent on showing life in less glamorous parts of the District. They purchased a camera and filmed their lives. “We just did all the things we normally did,” Williams says. “The camera became one of our friends.” They filmed all over the city for two years and edited the footage intoto judge from previewsan intense and explicit 90-minute film.
The filmmakers insist that the movie has a message: to educate everyonefrom rich professionals in Georgetown to young kids in Southeastabout the violence, the addiction, and the hopelessness of street life. Those realities swirled around them during the filming of Black Ice. The group’s van was showered with gunfire during one session, and it still has bullet holes on the right side. In March 2000, police raided the group’s studio and arrested Van Buren on murder charges, which were later dropped for lack of evidence. Later that month, Williams’ brother Timothy Collins was killed. Forbes was robbed at gunpoint for $20,000 in studio equipment in June of last year.
“There’s a lot of urban drama going on outside the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that people don’t see, especially with young black men,” Williams says. “That’s how the movie got its title. Black ice is ice on the roadway that you can’t see. But it’s still there.”
Some critics label the film exploitation. “When Hollywood takes something they think they know about from the media and casts actors, that’s exploitation,” responds Jones. “This isn’t exploitation. This just shows you what goes on.”
The filmmakers plan more documentaries, music albums, and interactive Web sites. And if they make it big, they hope to form a nonprofit organization and build a community center to teach kids multimedia skills. But for now, as Van Buren says, staring at one of the production screens, “I just want to show the struggle.” Dave Mann
For more information, visit www.blackicethemovie.com.