By almost any measure, Jamira Burley has suffered much misfortune in her young life. She was born into extreme poverty. During her childhood, both of her parents, and subsequently all of her brothers, were incarcerated for long stretches of time. Then her brother Andre was murdered unexpectedly in their family home. That was the final straw. After Andre’s death, Burley made a lifelong commitment to combatting urban violence in low-income communities.
Burley tells her story in Michael Marantz’s short documentary A Sister’s Hope. When Marantz met Burley, he was inspired by what he describes as the young woman’s “raw determination to create a better life for herself as well as the people in the communities around her.” It was clear to Marantz that Burley’s experiences had a profound impact on her life’s work, and he hoped to draw attention to her resilience and accomplishments. “It could have been so easy to allow those experiences to destroy her,” Marantz told me, “but she was able to take those incredibly challenging episodes and shape a path forward.”
The film features an interview with Burley intercut with images of her community. Marantz also employs some reenactments—scenes he referred to as “visual narrative moments.”
“I really believe that incorporating these visual narrative moments within a documentary film are a way to create much stronger emotional connections with the characters and the story,” Marantz said. Rather than simply hearing about Andre from Burley, Marantz wanted viewers to experience him as a person living his life.
Burley explains how Andre’s death changed her. In the intervening years, she organized an anti-violence program in her high school, reducing the crime rate by 30 percent. She gained some public recognition through her efforts and received a $50,000 grant from the state of Pennsylvaniato implement the program in the 10 most dangerous high schools in the city. “That set her off on an incredible career of creating real impact,” Marantz said. Burley has also worked with Barack Obama’s administration—she was named a White House Champion of Change—and the United Nations on programs geared toward helping disadvantaged youths around the world.