2021 Firelight Year-in-Review: Program Highlights

For the final post in our 2021 Firelight Year-in-Review series, we’re highlighting news and updates from our Artist Programs! This year we welcomed new cohorts to our flagship Documentary Lab, Groundwork Regional Lab, and FRONTLINE/Firelight Fellowship, and welcomed new grantees for the second year of our William Greaves Fund and Impact Campaign Fund. We also expanded our documentary short film production efforts with the launch of a new series of regional shorts, piloted as Hindsight, and issued a call for proposals for HOMEGROWN: Future Visions, our second collection of regional shorts, for BIPOC filmmakers based in the American Midwest, which will launch in 2022.

In addition to our major Artist Programs, Firelight Media took on two additional grant-making initiatives this year, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the City of New York, respectively: the Spark Fund and the City Artist Corps Grants program.

Read on to discover Artist Program highlights in 2021 — including news and updates about our amazing staff.

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Firelight Media’s ability to support our growing network of over 120 BIPOC filmmakers is thanks in part to our generous community of individual donors. Thanks to a generous offer by a member of our Board of Trustees, donations made to Firelight Media from now through December 31 will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $5,000.

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Documentary Lab

Firelight Media recently announced the new cohort of our flagship Documentary Lab, which seeks out and develops emerging filmmakers of color who make artful and innovative nonfiction films. The 18-month Documentary Lab provides filmmakers with customized mentorship from prominent leaders in the documentary world, as well as funding, professional development workshops, and networking opportunities. The new cohort includes 14 filmmakers, four of which are filmmaker teams. Beginning with the 2021–2023 cohort, Firelight Media is pleased to offer a $25,000 grant for each project accepted into the Documentary Lab, an increase of $10,000 from previous years, to provide much-needed financial support for the in-progress productions.

Meet the 2021–2023 Documentary Lab Fellows:

Groundwork Regional Lab

Screenshot of the virtual Groundwork Regional Lab convening for Missouri filmmakers.

The Groundwork Regional Lab held two virtual convenings for filmmakers in the American Midwest in 2021. Groundwork Missouri was held over 4 days in early November for a cohort of 15 filmmakers in partnership with the Nine PBS station and other local organizations including St. Louis Film Works, Continuity, and Cinema St. Louis. Groundwork Wisconsin was held in early December for a cohort of 13 filmmakers in partnership with Milwaukee PBS, Milwaukee Film, John Ridley’s No Studios, and ImagineMKE.

Learn more about the Groundwork Regional Lab:

FRONTLINE/Firelight Fellowship

Cristina Ibarra and Ursula Liang, 2021 FRONTLINE/Firelight Fellows

In September, Firelight Media announced the new class of 2021 FRONTLINE/Firelight Fellows: Cristina Ibarra and Ursula Liang. During their fellowship, Ibarra and Liang will each receive a three-month research grant and will be provided with reporting and editorial support as they develop investigative story ideas. FRONTLINE and Firelight Media will then provide funding for each fellow to produce a short film. After a festival run, each filmmaker’s documentary short will be distributed on FRONTLINE’s digital platforms.

Learn more about the 2021 FRONTLINE/Firelight Fellows:

In March, FRONTLINE PBS premiered the latest film by a FRONTLINE/Firelight Fellow: Jacqueline Olive’s Death Is Our Business. A co-production between FRONTLINE, Firelight Media, and WORLD Channel, Death Is Our Business examines in intimate and moving detail how Black funeral homes in New Orleans have had to adapt to the devastating impact of COVID-19 in their community. While revealing the racial disparities of the virus’ toll, award-winning filmmaker Jacqueline Olive shines a light on how the coronavirus has rocked the Black community’s cherished cultural practices in a city that is no stranger to loss and grief.

Stream Death Is Our Business:

Regional Shorts: ‘Hindsight’ and ‘HOMEGROWN: Future Visions’

In October, Firelight Media invited emerging BIPOC filmmakers living in the American Midwest to submit proposals or works-in-progress for a new digital shorts initiative, HOMEGROWN: Future Visions, the second season of our regional shorts series (piloted as Hindsight). Eight selected filmmakers will receive $35,000 to produce an 8–10 minute non-fiction short film. The filmmakers will work with Firelight Media from development through distribution, and will receive mentorship by established independent filmmakers. Additionally, filmmakers will be paired with a local public media station for additional editorial and audience engagement support, with a focus on local expertise and communities. Selected films will be distributed through public media with a planned release for Fall 2022.

Learn more about Firelight Media’s short film productions:

In July, Firelight Media released our first season of regional shorts, Hindsight, in partnership with Reel South, the Center for Asian American Media, and WORLD Channel. The six films in the series chronicle the lived experiences of BIPOC communities in the American South and Puerto Rico during the unprecedented events of 2020, exploring the cultural shifts, community ingenuity, and pivotal conversations defining this moment in America. The entire series is available to stream now via Firelight Media, Reel South and the PBS Video App, and via WORLD Channel.

Stream the Hindsight series:

William Greaves Fund

In September, Firelight Media announced the recipients for the second year of our William Greaves Fund. The William Greaves Fund was founded in 2020 to support documentary filmmakers from racially and ethnically underrepresented communities. To address the devastating toll that the pandemic has had on the independent film community, and how unstable work in the industry can be for filmmakers of color, the William Greaves Fund includes a basic care stipend that can be put toward any essential need grantees have, from healthcare and childcare costs to any other necessary resources which Firelight Media sees as fundamental to producing creative work. 2021 grantees include filmmakers from across the United States, as well as from Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia, the majority of whom identify as Indigenous, Black, and/or of African descent.

Meet the 2021 William Greaves Fund grantees:

Impact Campaign Fund

In July, Firelight Media announced the seven projects supported by the 2021 Impact Campaign Fund, which addresses a resource gap in the nonfiction space for impact and audience engagement-related projects by and for communities of color in the U.S. The seven films selected tell layered stories about timely political and social issues, including the fight over Confederate monuments in New Orleans, intersectional movement building, several stories about activism by women of color, and personal stories around sexual abuse and undocumented immigration. Projects were awarded with grants ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 and the opportunity to gain impact and engagement strategy support and advising.

Meet the 2021 Impact Campaign Fund grantees:

The Spark Fund

In October, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Firelight Media launched the Spark Fund for established BIPOC filmmakers whose humanities-themed projects were disrupted by the COVID-19 public health emergency. This one-time opportunity, which is underwritten by the NEH’s “Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan” (#SHARP) Grantmaking initiative, will provide stipends rather than project support to selected filmmakers. The Spark Fund will provide 36 stipends of $50,000 to selected filmmakers over the period of one year, for their use in alleviating financial hardship and work disruptions endured from the COVID-19 pandemic. Spark Fund applications are due December 29, 2021.

Learn more about the Spark Fund:

City Artist Corps

This summer, Firelight Media was chosen as a partner organization for the City Artist Corps Grants program, an initiative from the New York Foundation for the Arts with the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs with support from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) as well as Queens Theatre. The program was designed to support NYC-based working artists who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The program will distribute one-time $5,000 grants to over 3,000 artists to help sustain their practice and engage the public across New York City’s five boroughs. The program concluded in October, and provided grants to 3,000 New York City-based working artists.

View the City Artist Corps Showcase Page here:

Firelight Media Staff News & Transitions

In August, Firelight Media announced significant grants from PBS and CPB to support and expand its programs. As part of this expansion, we announced the promotion of Chloë Walters-Wallace to director of regional initiatives. In the role, she will continue to lead the Groundwork Regional Lab and will also lead the regional short films initiative.

Read that announcement here:

In November, Firelight Media announced that Loira Limbal, our SVP for Programs, will step down from her leadership role at the end of 2021. Limbal first joined Firelight Media in 2009 as office manager and has since emerged as a prominent leader in the documentary field as well as an acclaimed filmmaker in her own right. A national search will be conducted beginning in November 2021 to identify a new SVP for Programs.

Read that announcement here:

Learn more about Firelight Media and its programs at firelightmedia.tv.



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Firelight Media produces documentary films, supports nonfiction filmmakers of color, and cultivates audiences for their work. We’re #changingthestory.