Art / Crime

New film warns of drug scourge

Joe Hirsch

Director Juan Shamsul Alam, center, reviews the script of Junkie’s Paradise with actors Angel Salazar, left, and Tony Vozzo, right.

Movie shot in Longwood spotlights heroin resurgence

The surge in heroin use across the city has prompted one Bronx playwright and director to make a movie to warn about the drug’s growing danger.

Award-winning playwright Juan Shamsul Alam, 68, has taken to the Internet to recruit actors to film Junkie’s Paradise to dramatize the return of smack to the South Bronx.

The movie is being shot in Longwood and Brooklyn, with a cross-section of experienced and aspiring actors who see the small-budget production as an opportunity to bolster their resumes and hone their skills, if not necessarily a springboard to overnight wealth and fame.

The cast and crew gathered on the edge of Bill Raney Park in Longwood in July for a shoot.

“They take raw talent and they develop it,” said Tony Vozzo, a veteran actor and producer and longtime colleague of the director’s. Vozzo plays a sleazy pusher named Jimmy.

Sly Maldonado, 24, who grew up in Mott Haven but now lives in Connecticut, spotted the chance to play a role he instantly identified with when he saw the film promoted on a website for actors willing to accept unpaid work for the exposure and the love of the trade.

“I kind of grew up around it,” Maldonado said of the seedy drug culture depicted in the film. “I had a pretty crazy upbringing around the same thing.”

Maldonado plays Suave, a “street smart junkie” who is lured into working for a drug ring.

Joe Hirsch

On the set at Bill Raney Park.

Jennifer Cintron, who plays Suave’s squeeze, says she has done a little bit of everything, from drama to musicals and commercials, adding she applies for roles in “whatever’s happening in New York.”

The film’s most prominent cast member, Angel Salazar, comes to Junkie’s Paradise with experience playing hoodlums on the silver screen. Salazar, who played Al Pacino’s sidekick Chi-chi in the 1983 blockbuster Scarface and Walberto in the 1993 crime drama Carlito’s Way with Pacino and Sean Penn, also works as a standup comedian.

“He’s a very smooth gangster, always conning the con artist,” said Salazar of his character, Papi Nice.

But although the gangster role is a familiar one for Salazar, the method on Shamsul Alam’s sets is far different from the rigidly scripted, meticulously arranged, big budget crime flick sets with marquee casts Salazar has worked on.

“We get the script as we go along, there’s a lot of improvising,” said Salazar. “Which is fine with me.”

Like the other actors, Salazar knows not to expect a paycheck, but said he would use clips from the film to create a demo to help land future gigs.

Cast members also gathered in a Kelly St. apartment across from the park for one of the movie’s pivotal scenes. The tenant, Gisele Garcia, plays a character “who’s going to get killed by her man who smokes dope,” explained Garcia, leaning out the window of her apartment while eagerly awaiting her cue.  She also wrote and performed a song for the movie’s soundtrack.

Garcia, who also played a part in another Shamsul Alam thriller, Seven Diamonds, said she was excited at the chance to show her stuff again.

“You have stickup artists, you have cops—it’s not a paradise,” she said, assessing the script’s take on the city’s drug underworld, adding that Shamsul Alam rewarded her loyalty by promoting her to assistant director for Junkie’s Paradise.

The movie is the seventh of Shamsul Alam’s directorial career, most of which revolve around the city’s gangster culture. He says he comes by the subject matter honestly,

“I grew up in every ghetto in New York City,” he said.

Shamsul Alam spent his formative years living on Kelly and Tiffany streets in Longwood, and 156th St. in Melrose. Although he now lives in the north Bronx, the South Bronx is still his muse, he said, because it resonates most clearly in his memory.

In 1969, Shamsul Alam was shot while trying to defend his brother who had been mugged coming out of the 2/5 subway station at Tiffany and Intervale. He was shot again six years later when his home in Morrisania was broken into by intruders he says mistook him for a drug dealer they were targeting.

“I’ve seen so much crazy stuff it’s embedded in my mind,” he said.

In recent years, he has won awards for his movies and plays, including a BRIO (Bronx Rewards Its Own).Shamsul Alam expects to have a final edit of Junkie’s Paradise to pitch to film festivals by the end of the year.

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