Firelight Media and FRONTLINE Announce 2021 Class of FRONTLINE/Firelight Investigative Journalism Fellows

Firelight Media
5 min readSep 15, 2021
Cristina Ibarra and Ursula Liang

Firelight Media, the premier destination for nonfiction cinema by and about communities of color, and FRONTLINE, PBS’s award-winning investigative documentary series, have announced the 2021 recipients of the FRONTLINE/Firelight Investigative Journalism Fellowship. The 2021 FRONTLINE/Firelight fellows are Cristina Ibarra and Ursula Liang.

This fellowship was created to support independent filmmakers of color interested in journalistic documentary filmmaking, and it champions the need for more diverse voices, perspectives and experiences within that field. In its third year, the program will continue to include funding for the research and development of nonfiction short films that shine a light on underreported issues in the U.S.

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.

“Over the past two years, our FRONTLINE/Firelight Investigative Journalism Fellows have delivered remarkable, boundary-pushing storytelling, resulting in documentaries that have illuminated critical issues faced by America’s underserved communities,” says FRONTLINE Executive Producer Raney Aronson-Rath. “We are delighted to continue our fellowship with Firelight Media in its third year, and we are looking forward to working with Cristina and Ursula, two incredibly talented filmmakers who have already made an impact with their past work with public media.”

“We are so pleased that the recipients of this year’s FRONTLINE/Firelight Fellowship are Cristina and Ursula, both talented alumni of our Documentary Lab who have already created incredible feature films in the investigative documentary space,” said Marcia Smith, president and co-founder of Firelight Media. “This partnership with FRONTLINE provides vital support for filmmakers of color to research and document some of the many underreported issues BIPOC communities are facing in the U.S.”

Ibarra is an award-winning filmmaker with a 20-year storytelling practice rooted in her border-crossing homeland along the Texas–Mexico border. Her film The Infiltrators is a docu-thriller about undocumented activists who go undercover inside a detention center to help set free those inside. With distribution from Oscilloscope, The Infiltrators won the Audience and the Innovator Award in the NEXT section at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019, among other notable festival awards. Ibarra’s award-winning documentary Las Marthas, which debuted on PBS’ Independent Lens in 2014 with distribution by Women Make Movies, explores the lives of wealthy South Texas border debutantes who honor George Washington in Laredo, Texas. The New York Times called Las Marthas “a striking alternative portrait of border life.” The Last Conquistador, Ibarra’s documentary about the racially conflicted construction of a monument to a conquistador in El Paso, Texas, was broadcast on POV in 2008 and was described as “Heroic” by USA Today. Her award-winning directorial debut, Dirty Laundry: A Homemade Telenovela, was broadcast on PBS in 2001. Ibarra has been the recipient of fellowships from Soros, Rauschenberg, Rockefeller, NYFA, CPB/PBS, NALIP, Firelight Media, the Sundance Women’s Initiative and Creative Capital, among others.

Liang is a storyteller who has worked in a wide range of media. She has held staff positions at The New York Times’ Op-Docs, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, ESPN The Magazine, Asia Pacific Forum on WBAI, StirTV and Hyphen magazine, and currently freelances as a film and television producer (One October, Third Act, NBC’s Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge, UFC Primetime) and story consultant. Liang is a member of Film Fatales and A-DOC and sits on the executive board of Brown Girls Doc Mafia. The New York Times has called her debut feature 9-Man “an absorbing documentary,” and The Los Angeles Times included it on a list of the best Asian American films of the past 20 years. 9-Man, which aired on WORLD Channel’s series America ReFramed, won numerous festival awards, including two grand jury prizes and two audience awards. Her latest film, Down a Dark Stairwell, had its premiere at True/False Film Fest and has been called “a vital picture of a tumultuous time” and “the most essential Asian-American documentary in decades.” Down a Dark Stairwell, which aired on Independent Lens in 2021, qualified for the 2021 Academy Awards and will be distributed by Kino Lorber.

About Firelight Media
Firelight Media is a premier destination for nonfiction cinema by and about communities of color. Firelight Media produces documentary films, supports filmmakers of color and cultivates audiences for their work. Firelight Media’s programs include the Documentary Lab, an 18-month fellowship that supports emerging filmmakers of color; Groundwork Regional Lab, which supports filmmakers in the American South, Midwest and U.S.-controlled territories; and the William Greaves Fund for midcareer nonfiction filmmakers from racially and ethnically underrepresented communities. Firelight Media also produces digital short film series, including In the Making with PBS American Masters, and the recently released Hindsight series with Reel South and the Center for Asian American Media. In addition to a focus on excellence in filmmaking, Firelight Media develops strategies, partnerships and materials to reach and engage diverse audiences and maximize the impact of documentary films.

FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 95 Emmy Awards and 26 Peabody Awards. Visit and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to learn more. FRONTLINE is produced at GBH in Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by the Ford Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Abrams Foundation; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Park Foundation; and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation and additional support from Koo and Patricia Yuen.



Firelight Media

Firelight Media is a nonprofit organization that supports, resources, and advocates on behalf of documentary filmmakers of color.