Two Villanova University Social Justice Documentaries Give Voice to South African Women, Community in Camden

Hope Works Here

Thousands of miles and an ocean away from the U.S., Mandisa, a black woman in South Africa, struggles with HIV and poverty in a post-apartheid landscape. Just across the Schuylkill River in Camden, New Jersey, 20-somethings Adria, Corey and George succeed despite struggles with homelessness, depression and drugs. These are the compelling stories of two Villanova University student documentaries that will premiere in early May as part of the Social Justice Documentary Program in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The program is funded by Villanova’s Waterhouse Family Institute for the Study of Communication and Society and Elaine and David Nord. Each year, the students in the program create their own production companies and their films have screened across the globe—some advancing as far as finalists in the Student Academy Award competition.

“Posi+ive” aims to amplify the voices of South African women living with HIV, and “Hope Works Here” challenges pre-existing notions about Camden by shedding light on one of many organizations that is positively contributing to the community.


“Posi+ive” is produced by One Step Films, comprised of student-filmmakers and faculty moderator Hezekiah Lewis. The crew traveled to South Africa in fall 2016 and learned more about the country’s detrimental racial divide and the staggering numbers of black women living with HIV.

“We always hear different numbers and statistics about HIV, but it can be so much more impactful to put a face to the numbers,” says co-producer, Vincent Thomas ’17 CLAS. “When you hear and see someone’s story, you realize this is an actual human being affected by the numbers.”

“Hope Works Here"

The students of Bridgital Studios also found that subjects’ stories propelled their documentary. “Hope Works Here” follows three subjects at HopeWorks, a nonprofit organization that offers technical training, counseling and entrepreneurship for young people in Camden. Adria is a 22-year-old student who has experienced homelessness and isolation. Corey is a 23-year-old student overcoming depression, and George is a 22-year old student with a past in drug dealing.

“During pre-production, we thought the film was going to be a story about technology,” says director, Peter Prokop ’17 CLAS. “While the skills these young people work to master are a huge step towards a sustainable future, neither tech skills nor money can erase trauma. Caring for trauma takes time, resources and commitment—three things that Hopeworks has realized are not optional if they are really going to help young people reach a sustainable future.”

“Our students did a wonderful job capturing the issues of the city, but more importantly, they captured the residents who work to bring hope to a community that many have written off,” said Stephen McWilliams, who teaches the course with Professor Matthew Marencik and Communication Department assistant professor John O'Leary, PhD.

Housed in the Communication Department, the Waterhouse Institute emphasizes the vital role of communication in the creation of a more just world. Consistent with the Waterhouse Institute’s mission, the Social Justice Documentary Program teaches students the importance of Communication in creating social change.

“More than learning how to make a documentary, we learned how to be an ally, how to be informed and how to advocate for social justice,” said Brittany Lam ’17 CLAS, co-producer of “Posi+ive.”

Screening information

“Posi+ive” screens on May 5 at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia at 7 p.m. Tickets can be reserved here. One Step Films will host a panel discussion among experts in racial discourse and HIV about prevalent themes in the film on May 3 at 6 p.m. in the Driscoll Auditorium at Villanova University.

“Hope Works Here” screens on May 6 in the Connelly Cinema at Villanova University. Refreshments will be served at 6 p.m. and the screening will begin at 7 p.m. Following the screening, there will be a Q and A session with the cast members and film crew.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.

Media Contact

Jennifer Schu

Director of Communications, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences