Real Toronto is the city's hottest underground DVD , a 40-minute film shot this spring that screens like a disturbing trailer for the summer that followed, when young black men gunned each other down weekly in blighted neighbourhoods from North York to Scarborough.
Filmed with a handheld digital video recorder by a 22-year-old Russian immigrant, Real Toronto purports to show viewers, "the reality of living in housing projects and some of the most run-down areas of the city."
It's one part rap video, one part ghetto travelogue and, its producer fears, one part police evidence, depicting young men blasting shotguns, flashing rounds of ammunition in broad daylight and bragging about bullying neighbourhood informants.
"I wanted to show that what people rap about really does happen," said Madd Russian, the film's director and producer, who didn't want his real name used.
In one scene, a young man at the Teesdale projects in southwest Scarborough explains, "We're so real, we'll take you to the snitch's door."
Standing in a dimly lit hallway in a highrise at 40 Teesdale Place, the man and a friend point to the "snitch's" apartment and explain he's too afraid to take his garbage to the chute, leaving it in the hallway instead.
"We check his house every hour on the hour," the man says.
At Jane and Finch in North York, though, real-life street violence merges with the stylized glamour of gangster rap videos. A half-dozen young men gather in a semi-circle inside an apartment building, bandanas covering their faces, as each takes turns showing off his gun. One flashes what looks like an Uzi submachine gun while another brags about his "40 Cal." pistol from underneath a maple leaf do-rag.
The DVD tours nine neighbourhoods and in each, locals answer Russian's basic question, "What's it like growing up here?" with the same mix of pride and despair. Complaints about poverty and police mistreatment mingle with gun-wielding braggadocio and boasts about "hos, cars and cash."
With help from two local rappers, Russian was introduced to locals in one of the neighbourhoods where he filmed and word began to spread about the thickly accented white kid offering a chance to mouth off on camera. Being an immigrant, he says, helped him gain the trust of young men who also consider themselves outsiders. "They didn't see me as white."
Russian says Real Toronto is pure documentary and refuses to judge his subjects.
"This is their side of the story. What they said is what they said. I put it out because it's something people don't get to see."