New Face of Buffalo Project (2016)
The New Face of Buffalo Project was created by Jesse Deganis-Librera and Kanchalee Deganis-Librera in 2016. The project had two goals. One was to create a workshop that would teach refugee youth about filmmaking and further expose them to local Buffalo culture. The second was to create a short-form documentary series profiling the students as they went through the workshop.
This “coming of age” series would explore what it’s like growing up in a new place, caught between two worlds, trying to find a sense of home. Our hope was that this project would serve as a model for educating and nurturing thriving communities, bridging cultures to build the best future for a once great American city.
During the summer of 2016, a group of four teens from different refugee communities learned to use filmmaking to express a part of their experience living in Buffalo, NY. Our film workshop was integrated into Jericho Road’s F.L.Y. After School Program and ran for six weeks. The students who participated in the program were Nishan Tamang (Nepali/13), Pray Meh (Karenni/14), Sue Meh (Karenni/13), Rukia Sheikh (Kenya/13). We taught the students regularly every Monday and Wednesday from 3-5pm with extra shooting days and interview days. Our lessons included idea development, storytelling, camera techniques, interviewing techniques, best sound practices and working as a crew.
The students also engaged in two immersive cultural field trips about arts and food. One was to the Western New York Book Arts Center where the students learned about the history of letterpress printing and had a fun time with the equipment, making “New Face of Buffalo” letterpress posters, designed by Rosemary Williams. The other visit was to Erie 1 Boces where the students had a private session at the kitchen with Chef John Marinelli. It was a fun time for the students to learn about perogies, a dish that became part of Buffalo cuisine thanks to Polish and eastern European immigrants. The students were able to help make perogies and bring some home to share with their family. Special thanks to Michael Capuana for making this trip happen.
Within six weeks, the students were able to finish their short films about their Buffalo experiences. The topics of the films included “ MY F.L.Y.”, a story about the afterschool program, “My Bullying Story”, a first hand experience as an immigrant, “My West Side”, a story about two West Buffalo shops, and “ My Soccer”, a story about how playing soccer in Buffalo brings memories of playing with an uncle from home. All four short films were screened as part of the F.L.Y. Summer Showcase in August 2016.
THE AFTERMATH :
When the dust settled, we were very pleased with the success of the filmmaking workshop. As for the documentary series, we ended up documenting all the classes, field trips, and student interviews as planned, but still faced a lot of difficulties with other aspects of the project. Despite setting up a fundraising drive through fiscal sponsorship with Fractured Atlas, funding was still an issue. We received support from individuals and local businesses in Buffalo, however, it was not enough to continue with post-production. Another issue arose as the parents of one student did not want their child’s face shown in our documentary. This complication made it very difficult to make the series in the way we had hoped. We tried to think of other ways that the series could be presented, however with the limited time of the students and lack of funding, we decided to discontinue the project as a feature documentary.
Despite this setback, we are so proud of this project and are working on a shorter video to show the highlights of this project. We are so grateful for the help of the communities of Buffalo that helped create this project for the City’s next generation of immigrants.
This project was fiscally sponsored in 2016 by Fractured Atlas and it would not have been possible without the generosity from Jericho Road’s F.L.Y. Program, Western New York Book Arts Center and Erie 1 BOCES. Special thanks to Bethany Ortquist, Rosemary Williams and Michael Capuana.
Thank you also to Homerun Creative, WNED and Delaware Camera for equipment support.
Thank you to all of our backers! We appreciate your love and support :
Judith Kosinski, Jennifer Dean, Eric Rice, Mira Steinzor, Debbie Fleischmann, Wendy Wojcik, Isabel Sanchez, Vivienne Leheny, Deanna Kartez, Prissly Mena and Barbara Ann O’Leary.