Last month, the PFS Theater at the Roxy hosted Amanda Danziger’s The Backyard Philly Project for it’s monthly Filmadelphia at the Roxy series.
The Backyard Philly Project explores the lives of four teens growing up in the Philadelphia inner-city neighborhood known as Penn Town. Shot partially by the teens themselves, this documentary give an insightful look at life amidst city housing unites where scenes of violence, poverty, friendship, and inspiration are edited together. Including a spotlight on the Helping Hands Rescue Mission, the films reveals the necessity of support encouragement, and a positive environment for young people in the city. The film was inspired by former Kixx player Adam Bruckner, now a Philadelphia resident and after school program director.
During the Q&A session after the film, Danziger told us a bit about the inspiration, the process, and the future of the Backyard Philly Project.
“I was living on the 20th floor…in a studio apartment in this high rise and I would just look out the window and I thought to myself – look at this backyard. Because we didn’t have a view of the city, but it was just all North Philadelphia…and I thought that was quite interesting. I said, there’s gotta be a story out there. I got hooked on documentary filmmaking while a student at Drexel, and I started volunteering at the Helping Hand Rescue Mission. When I started volunteering, I started to hear all these stories. And then I said, there are a million stories in our backyard. And I think we don’t understand what’s in our backyard. And I think we just kind of want to shove things under the rug, and don’t want to understand that a lot of these problems exist and I think it’s important that all of the problems or at least most of them were addressed…
[Some of the violence in Philadelphia is] quite brutal. Before we premiered this at Drexel University last May… some person wrote on a comment on an article that we got with WHYY that said, ‘This girl’s gotta be kidding. She’s scared to walk through this neighborhood?’ And I was at first. And actually Adam in the film made this fake identity and wrote back and said ‘You should try sitting in your car there over night’ because one time a dental student got murdered in her car just sitting in the street, so there’s tons of violence and it’s scary. There are times when he [Adam] says he has to duck down, when he’s sitting in the mission sometimes are night because he hears gunshots going off.
I personally don’t think [Philadelphia is a violent city]. I never really felt threatened living here – I loved the city so much. But I think it depends on where you live and your district…Visiting there [the film’s location] all the time and hearing to stories that the kids tell me, you kind of have a different opinion, so you live in two different worlds in the city.”
The Backyard Philly Project is a unique documentary in that much of the filming was done by the teenagers themselves. When asked what motivated the choice, Danziger said,
“I’m sick of reality TV…I didn’t want to follow them. I wanted to get real answers from them. I wanted them to just talk to me, but without me being there. And maybe for the first two months, they really didn’t record very much, didn’t quite understand it, but after a while, they started to understand that, ‘I can tell you anything, and you’re okay with it’… [When the kids saw the film] They loved it. We did this special event for them at Drexel University and we have all these big photos blown up for them and we had a reception and…they felt like kings and queens And they felt like their stories were actually being told and people were reaching out and understanding it.”
Danziger is currently in the process of re-editing and re-structuring the film.
“The reason we decided to re-cut is that I have a really good filmmaker friend who actually ended up being a judge at a film festival…He really loved the film. He gave us all this feedback. We ended up winning both awards – Best Documentary and Best Feature – and he said ‘I wanna give you this feedback because I really think you could make this even more powerful, just the fact that you could intertwine the stories.’ And in my mind, I had a really hard time just seeing that because I think I was just so emotionally connected with the students and the kids in the film that I felt like telling their individual stories was more important to me. But the more and more I started opening my eyes to it, I actually saw that his feedback was really good. The process has been really interesting, and we actually added in some extra footage, but we cut out a lot. We actually ended up cutting out a lot of Adam’s opinion…because for us it’s more important to see Brianna and Montae, really telling that story.”
Later, Danziger commented on the opportunity to screen The Backyard Philly Project as part of the Filmadelphia at the Roxy Series:
“Filmadelphia was such a great way to connect more with the city I love, and have my film seen by a completely different audience. Most of my friends and family have already seen the film, so to see a lot of unfamiliar faces was really encouraging to me as a filmmaker. Just goes to show that PFS has a dedicated following and you’ve helped me market to new people.”
Amanda Danziger is a graduate of Philadelphia’s Drexel University and the founder of Ferasha Films, which is in the process of became a non-profit organization. More information about the Backyard Philly Project and Ferasha Films can be found HERE.
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