Denesha Ross was adamant that any documentary about her son be more about his life than his death.
The Dream Chaser fits those parameters, yet Ross still can’t sit all the way through the film that details the upbringing and rise to stardom of Louisiana rapper Lil Snupe, who was murdered in June 2013 — one week after his 18th birthday.
The project from Dallas filmmaker Rahim Handy will debut on Thursday as part of the final installment of Dallas VideoFest at the Angelika Film Center.
“I’m not ready to see it yet. I want to see the people’s reactions to it,” said Ross, who also lives in Dallas. “I don’t want people to dwell on the loss. I want people to walk away with some kind of motivation.”
Lil Snupe, born Adderren Ross, began rapping at an early age, although his skeptical mother became exasperated by his struggles in school, which got him expelled three different times. His father was incarcerated.
Snupe became a protégé of Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill — who signed Snupe to his Dream Chasers label — after the youngster slipped him a demo tape after a concert at Grambling State University. Almost overnight, Snupe was a viral sensation.
However, he was gunned down only a few months later, allegedly during an argument over a video game. Although a suspect surrendered to police and was imprisoned, the film argues that the killer could still be at large.
Production on the documentary began in 2016, when Handy was a film student at UT Arlington under the tutelage of VideoFest artistic director Bart Weiss.
“Some young filmmakers just give up,” Weiss said. “He’s gone all over the country to shoot interviews. His commitment has been magnificent. The story is truly astounding.”
Handy and co-director Michael Emokhor started in Snupe’s hometown of Jonesboro, Louisiana, by interviewing his friends and acquaintances. It wasn’t until later that they reached out to hip-hop superstars such as Rick Ross, T.I., Meek Mill, and Boosie Badazz, who also appear.
“It would be too cliché to make a rap documentary about a rapper. This is a much bigger story than that,” Handy said. “As years passed by, the story progressed. Seeing how [Ross] is healing herself and healing other people, it turned into something else.”
Ross has since become an advocate and source of support for mothers who lose their children to gun violence. She hopes the film will be therapeutic and inspiring for Snupe’s fans.
“He was determined to be a rapper. It was natural for him,” she said. “My son worked so hard, and I just wanted people to know his story. I needed people to understand how he was able to achieve these things. He put all his energy into making it happen for himself.”
The lineup for VideoFest, which runs through the weekend, includes a handful of feature documentaries with local ties to help celebrate its final hurrah after 34 years. Some highlights include:
Everything Is A-OK — This comprehensive look at the history of the underground Dallas punk rock scene from the 1970s to the 2000s, directed by Justin Powers (Pot Zombies), includes new interviews, archival footage, and plenty of music.
Fireboys — Dallas resident Jakob Hochendoner co-directed this immersive look at juvenile inmates in California who are offered a way out: by fighting wildfires. They also must summon the courage to confront their pasts.
John Wilcox: The Relinquishment of Time — Sarah Reyes and Daniel Driensky directed this glimpse into one man’s effort to posthumously archive and exhibit his brother’s artistic estate while examining the motives behind minimalist art.
Pieces of Us — The latest doc from Dallas director Cheryl Allison (Shatter the Silence) has won acclaim from multiple festivals for portraying the journey to recovery for survivors of LGBTQ+ hate crimes around the world.
Big Tex Been Dead — This 20-minute short originally directed for KERA by the late Ken Harrison chronicles a day at the State Fair of Texas in the early 1970s. After being lost for decades, the Super-8 footage has been restored by local archivist Blaine Dunlap.