'Liberty City' Documentary By Shanks Rajendran Takes On Miami's Roughest Neighborhood (VIDEO)

01/18/2013 01:08 pm ET | Updated Jan 18, 2013

When Australian filmmaker Shanks Rajendran, 26, visited Miami in November 2012, people warned him not to venture too far from South Beach. He says taxi drivers told him they would never drive to Liberty City, a place where people would "kill you for a dime."

West of I-95 and south of NW 79 Street, Liberty City is arguably Miami's worst neighborhood -- Dade County's epicenter of poverty, gun violence, and race riots ever since I-95 spliced the neighborhood's streets in the 1960s.

The more Rajendran heard about the Miami neighborhood's poverty and violence, the documentarian decided the area was "shouting for attention." So he left what he called Miami's "good side" and took his cameras to Liberty City for three weeks.

"All I wanted to do was to give Liberty City a voice, hear it from their point of view," Rajendran told HuffPost Miami.

The result is a four-part documentary titled "Liberty City, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," currently in raw form on YouTube. (Watch the video above.)

"Driving down to Liberty City was an eye-opener. The dilapidated buildings, broken signs, toys on corners of streets [as memorials] for those who had been slain, the housing system," Rajendran said.

It was a striking contrast to his native Australia, he says, where there are few housing projects, tight gun-control laws, good education, relatively high levels of safety and security, and a robust economy.

"Though I was somewhat startled, the residents in Liberty City made me feel comfortable from day one," Rajendran said.

He soon connected with major players in "The City," as those featured in the film call their neighborhood. Resident Chris Green brought Rajendran to landmarks like Pork 'N' Beans, the historic Hampton House and the Scott Carver Projects. Next, Rajendran met up with a local rapper Will Kilm, who showed him around.

But much of the documentary's interviews were the result of just walking up to residents on the street. Rajendran said he felt more comfortable in Liberty City than anywhere else in Miami. "It’s just that warm, welcoming hospitability I felt in Liberty City that I didn’t feel elsewhere."

Not everyone involved in the neighborhood feels that way. One local property manager says in the film that she's afraid to go outside, and that the infamously rough Triangle neighborhood in nearby Opa-Locka feels safer to her than Liberty City.

In another scene, a young mother says she and her baby were almost hit during a shoot-out on the next block. She describes the sound of bullets from a "chopper," slang for an AK-47 assault rifle, hitting metal gates.

And for every young man interviewed in the film bragging about his self-professed "thug" lifestyle, there are other Liberty City residents admonishing a misguided generation.

One father brags about his straight-A student daughter, whom he's determined to provide a good example of how a man should treat a woman. "Her first relationship is going to be with her father," he says in the film. "If she sees me calling her momma a 'ho' and 'bitch' and all of that, she's going to expect that for herself."

Still, amongst the dilapidated storefronts and makeshift stuffed-toy memorials, "Liberty City" offers scenes of joy: A man called Butterball describes his insanely outfitted ride and another man celebrates his birthday with friends on the street.

The documentary clearly shows that Liberty City residents face more obstacles than just poverty and gun violence. There are tales of extremely crooked Miami cops and employers who won't even consider an applicant with a Liberty City address.

Thousands of Miamians live this reality every day in Liberty City, while the rest of Miami does its best to pretend the neighborhood doesn't exist.

"This is Miami," Rajendran's guide says in the film's final scene as he sits in Liberty City's Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. "This ain't no 'Grand Theft Auto.' The game ain't nothing like it. This is the soul right here: the projects, the parks, the schools, the stores. That's what it is."

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