Director Amanda Danziger shares her story behind The Backyard Philly Project.
I met Adam Bruckner at a local café in Philadelphia. I was excited to meet him because he said he worked a lot in the world of “American Poverty.” American—-what? Poverty? Yeah, I know that some people in America are poor – but how poor can they be compared to what I’ve seen in third world countries? It’s amazing how blind we can be to our own communities. Since 2007, I’ve been walking the streets of Philadelphia and have learned to ignore the world of Philadelphia’s homeless. It’s easy to ignore, and soon you become blind to the world of poverty in your own backyard.
My husband, Ariel, is my biggest support. After we got married in 2011, I took a small break from the world of documentary making. But after a while I started to feel that I needed to build a new project for Ferasha Films. He encouraged me to think outside the box and find a new story to film. I thought about leaving the country again, but it just didn’t seem right. We lived on the 20th floor in a small studio apartment for our first year of marriage. What a view! It was a place of inspiration, even though we lived in such a small space. But everyday I looked out that window onto my backyard, toward North Philadelphia, and I felt Philadelphia calling my name. That’s when I decided to organize a crew for Ferasha Films to work on our first feature documentary in our own backyard.
Adam told me a lot about how he works with the homeless at a program he started called Philly Restart. But what really struck me was his time and dedication to a housing project near the Northern Liberties neighborhood. Adam organized an after school program at The Helping Hand Rescue Mission (the Mission) for the children in the community. The after school program’s mission is twofold: to tutor elementary school students in their schoolwork, and to challenge the older teens of the neighborhood to take action and tutor those same students.
My first day visiting the Mission made my pulse race with fear. That’s when I asked Nienke Izurieta (Director of Still Photography) to come with me. The first time we went, the palms of my hands were sweating as Adam gave us a walking tour around the neighborhood. Growing up as a middle class suburban girl and moving into the big mean scary city you hear stories about “the projects.” As we walked with Adam I kept thinking ‘what on earth am I doing? I’m going to get shot.’ I was extremely relieved when we concluded our walking tour and we sat in the Mission waiting for the tutoring program to begin. And that’s when I fell in love with the faces of the neighborhood.
From then on I went every Tuesday and volunteered at the Mission with Nienke, even before production officially began. Eventually the teens in our documentary started to notice that we were showing up to tutor. What they didn’t know was those new tutors were soon to invite them to participate in the making of The Backyard Philly Project.
I’m very excited to premiere the documentary this May 10th and 11th. I really hope that you are too. I hope that when you do watch this film (at the premiere, a screening, film festival, buying the DVD) that you are inspired to work within your own community. The issues our documentary highlights cannot be fixed with money. The problems we filmed require personal commitment and volunteering. It is only by facing the problems and investing time in our backyards that we can successfully defeat the problems we attempted to document. Please connect with your community today.