Amanda Danziger, the founder of Ferasha Films, discovered her passion for filmmaking as a student at Drexel University doing volunteer work abroad. Her first two films documented that work: “Umuryango” was about children orphaned in the Rwandan genocide, and “Threads of Hope” was about women at a fair trade vocational school in India.
But her third project hits closer to home. “The Backyard Philly Project” is about four teens growing up in Penn Town, the housing project at Seventh and Greene. Danziger handed out video cameras and gave them a topic each month, from October 2011 to June 2012. The teens filmed themselves and their neighbors, creating video journals about the problems around them: violence, inadequate schools, often a lack of support at home. Interviews supplement this footage.
All four of the movie’s subjects have hopes for a better life — one has already graduated from college, and two of the other three are planning to attend, thanks to a boost from the Helping Hand Rescue Mission, a safe haven from the problems in Penn Town. Youth director Adam Bruckner was the one who originally got Danziger involved in the neighborhood, when he recruited her to be a tutor in the mission’s after-school program.
“Filming is different in Philadelphia,” Danziger says. “In a third-world country, I’d stick out like a sore thumb. In Penn Town, there were still cultural differences — we had to learn about the culture of the housing project, which is different from the culture I grew up in — but once we did, we were able to blend in.”