Half a decade ago, filmmaker Amanda Danzinger gave video cameras to four teens at the after-school program where she volunteered. Their home movies became part of a feature-length documentary she cut about their lives.
“The Backyard Philly Project” follows Montae, Tasia, Brianna and David who lived in public housing project Penn Town at 6th and Green streets in North Philadelphia. Danzinger, an Allentown native and Drexel University grad, said at the time she wanted to upend the traditional narrative around poverty. The film won Philly Geek Awards’ “Feature Length Indie Film of the Year” in 2013.
In 2017, she checked back in with the four now-adults for an update film. “The Backyard Philly Project: Five Years Later” premieres today on Ferasha Films‘ website.
Generocity asked Danzinger about “Five Years Later” and what had changed for the cast in that time. Her responses, below, have been lightly edited.
G: How did the original “Backyard Philly Project” come together? How did you decide on this subject matter?
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Amanda Danzinger: The original project came together when I met Adam Bruckner at a coffee shop. He found my student projects online and wondered if I would create a documentary about inner-city kids in Philadelphia.
I was a little skeptical at first, but decided to check out his program at The Helping Hand Rescue Mission and volunteer once a week at his after-school tutoring program. After tutoring for about two months, I decided to pull together a small team to film the stories of four teenagers that Adam hand-picked.
G: Why check back in five years later?
AD: We wanted to give viewers an update. There were a lot of open-ended questions to the film. We only followed them from October 2011–June 2012. Two of the teens in the films were juniors in high school at the time, and the other two were seniors. We learned that one of the seniors didn’t end up graduating, so the public wanted to know if he ever got a GED or a diploma.
They also wanted to know how college life is going for the senior that did end up graduating. Plus, with the two juniors, everyone wanted to know how their following years have gone, and if they have found healing in their lives. They both had a family member that was shot and killed on the streets of the neighborhood.
G: What changed for the four subjects in those five years? What surprised you, or didn’t?
AD: I am surprised by the cycle of life. While you can leave the projects, it’s easy to get back into the projects. But I’m also encouraged to see how an after-school program can still make an impact on one teenager or child.
One of the teens (now a young adult) says something along the lines of he’s not ashamed of being from the projects, it’s who he is, but he is determined to make something of himself. To acknowledge who you are, your situation, I find that to be encouraging and hopeful. I’m proud of him, and I’m proud of the others. They’ve all taken steps to try to change up their lives and be for the better.-30-
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