Leah Nelson Director
Leah is a co-founder of Giant Ant Media, a web-focused media company responsible for over 31 million online video views to date, has co-produced film and video projects in Europe, and has worked as a documentary researcher on Easter Island, Chile. Leah is also an award winning documentary filmmaker, Production Director for Watch For Change, a non-profit organization devoted to generating money for charities through online video, and a Director of Urban Project.
Jay Grandin Director
Jay Grandin is a co-founder of Giant Ant Media, a web-focused media company responsible for over 31 million online video views to date. Jay is also an industrial designer, Creative Director of Watch For Change, a non-profit organization devoted to generating money for charities through online video, and a Director of Urban Project.
Danya Fast Executive Producer
Danya Fast is a medical anthropologist who has worked with street-involved youth in a number of settings including Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and most recently, Vancouver, Canada. She is the founder and Executive Director of Urban Project, an NGO focused on creating opportunities though projects in the arts in locations around the world. Danya has also worked and traveled extensively in Morocco, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Australia and much of Western Europe.
Leah Mallen Producer
Leah Mallen has been working in the film and television industry for over fifteen years. After producing independently Leah joined Screen Siren Pictures in 2001 where she worked for six years and served as Vice President of the company. Her films have garnered many accolades and awards, including Best Short Film at Cannes, (Shoes off!) and Best New Documentary at Zurich (Hammer and Tickle). Other films produced include The Score for CBC, and Breaking Ranks for Global.
Leah now helms the production company Twofold Films in Vancouver.
In the summer of 2007, I traveled to Tanzania to find out what it means to be ‘healthy’ from the perspectives of young men living and working on the streets of Dar es Salaam’s urban core. I remember the first time I met Ninja, Kindo and Albo G – they had no qualms about grabbing the fieldwork guidelines I had diligently prepared ahead of time back at the University of Amsterdam, and reading them out in their entirety for the entertainment of everyone in earshot. From that moment on, I realized that my Master’s fieldwork would be so much more than question-and-answer interviews and ‘data collection.’ Much to my delight, the charismatic and talented young men with whom I worked in the hot sun of Dar es Salaam were eager to take ownership of the project and show me what they thought I needed to see. In the end, all I had to do was watch, listen and learn.
What I heard from them were definitions of ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ that mirrored the preoccupations of street life – a life in which fighting to make a living is paramount to more conventional health-related considerations such as malaria prevention or HIV. Also, it became clear that shared ideologies of work ethic, street smarts and ambition are encoded in the language of the street, and communicated through hip hop lyrics spoken on street corners and the graffiti art that covers youth-appropriated spaces of the city. I quickly realized that it is through music and art that these youth find powerful expression for the issues that affect their lives.
As I was leaving Tanzania last year, I was faced with the fact that I had not been able to‚ fairly‚ compensate Ninja, Albo G, Kindo, and the other young men who contributed so whole heartedly to my Masters research. I had given them what money I had at the time, but I left with the realization that, for me, this Masters thesis – this degree ‚Äì would likely unlock opportunities in any country I chose to live in. For the young men with whom I worked and come to call friends in Dar es Salaam, it has been a chance to express their views and to demonstrate the talent and explosive creativity that goes largely unrewarded in a country where opportunities continue to be few.
Back in Vancouver, I started to think seriously about what would be the best way to compensate these youth and others like them. I became committed to the idea of raising money to support youth-driven artistic projects, and to compensating the youth involved in ways that would have a sustainable and positive impact on their futures. Out of this commitment came Urban Project, a non-profit society dedicated to promoting employment, education and safer living opportunities among disadvantaged youth in urban locations all over the world. For the 2008 project, I approached Canadian filmmakers Leah Nelson and Jay Grandin with the idea of traveling back to Dar es Salaam, to provide the financial means for a group young hip hop artists living and working on the streets (many of whom I met and worked with the previous year) to record an album of their music. In return for their time and creative energy, Urban Project would pay for their school or other training course fees for one calendar year.
In October 2008, Leah, Jay and I will travel back to Tanzania, to conduct the 2008 project and document this six week process on film. Through this music making project (and the resulting footage), we hope to capture the ambition, drive and raw talent of these youth, who remain hopeful of a better future despite limited opportunities and a daily struggle for existence on the streets of Dar es Salaam. This year‚Äôs project is all about the power of music – and all that is shared in its creation – to shape lives and inspire dreams of a different kind of future.
Danya Fast, Director of Urban Project and Co-producer of the Bongo Series