Firelight Media-Supported Filmmakers at Tribeca Festival 2024

This year’s Tribeca Festival will include three World Premieres of Documentary Lab-supported films and several premieres by Documentary Lab alumni and Spark Fund (NEH) recipients.

Firelight Media
10 min readMay 15, 2024
Promotional image via Tribeca Festival

Firelight Media is proud to announce that seven Firelight Media-supported filmmakers will premiere films at the Tribeca Festival this year, including three World Premieres of films supported through our Documentary Lab!

The 2024 Tribeca Festival will take place June 5–16 in NYC. Tribeca Festival brings artists and diverse audiences together and celebrates storytelling in all its forms, from film, TV, and music to audio storytelling, games, and XR. As a leading force in independent film, Tribeca is a champion of emerging and established voices, discovering award-winning talent and introducing new ideas through premieres, exhibitions, conversations, and live performances.

View the full list of Firelight Media-supported filmmakers premiering at Tribeca Festival below. We are proud to co-host many of these screenings — each co-hosted screening is indicated with an asterisk.

Film stills and film descriptions courtesy of Tribeca Festival.

‘New Wave,’ dir. Elizabeth Ai | World Premiere*

New Wave is the directorial debut of Elizabeth Ai and is supported through Firelight Media’s Documentary Lab.

It’s a late evening in 2019. Elizabeth Ai, a Vietnamese-American filmmaker, exuberantly hangs out with friends outside of a nightclub. As Elizabeth enters with her cohort, her soft-spoken narration reveals her current purpose: “I just had a baby six months ago — and there I was, at a club…chasing a story.” This is the onset of Elizabeth’s feisty exploration into her Vietnamese music culture — specifically, her examination of “new wave” — the popular 80’s musical phenomenon that featured Vietnamese artists/singers with big hairstyles, defiant attitudes and joyful, infectious vibes. Elizabeth was swept up by the vivacious “new wave” throughout her childhood, while being raised by her aunt Myra amidst a strained relationship with her mother. Now as a new mother, Elizabeth links up with “new wave” stalwarts like singer Lynda Trang Đài and Ian “DJ BPM” Nguyen to further reflect on the nostalgia & kitsch of “new wave” — from the boisterous apex of this phenomenon to its struggles when idiosyncratic artists sought inclusion in the wider American pop culture scene.

Ai’s commanding exploration of cultural identity and community resilience makes for an intimate, emotionally attuned watch. Bolstered by a treasure trove of archival footage of irreverent musical performances (with big hairstyles galore), New Wave is ultimately a love letter to a determined community striving for acceptance. — Jose Rodriguez

*Firelight Media is proud to co-host the second, third, and fourth screenings of this film.

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‘Made in Ethiopia,’ Co-dir. Xinyan Yu | World Premiere*

Made in Ethiopia is co-directed by Xinyan Yu and Max Duncan and is supported by Firelight Media’s Documentary Lab.

Made in Ethiopia examines the growing industrialization taking place in present-day Ethiopia and China’s often misunderstood but growing impact in Africa. Filmed over four years with unprecedented access, the story takes viewers to a dusty farming town in Ethiopia as a Chinese industrial park begins to take shape. The film follows three women, perhaps most affected: the Chinese factory director who must muster up strength to fulfill the promise of expansion and 30,000 jobs, a factory worker, and a local farmer, all who look to the success of the development for their future prosperity.

This is a nuanced tale, exploring the lives built on a vanishing countryside and the contrasting industrial megaplex that represents progress and profit. It’s an examination of the relationship between tradition and modernity, what progress means for the well-being of a country and its people, and an intimate look at its effect on individual lives. — Deborah Rudolph

*Firelight Media is proud to co-host all three screenings of this film.

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‘Driver,’ Dir. Nesa Azimi | World Premiere*

Driver is directed by Nesa Azimi and is supported through Firelight Media’s Documentary Lab.

Desiree Wood has been to hell and back. A former stripper who lost everything, she now has a second lease on life as a long-haul truck driver. By establishing the organization “Real Women In Trucking,” Desiree has amassed an irreverent coalition of women drivers to advocate for an equitable and fair quality of life on the road, and ensure the welfare of women drivers within their male-dominated profession. While this line of work brings socially precarious circumstances and solitude, these women undertake their jobs with an air of gallows humor and steely commitment to their work. However, as the American labor landscape continues to deteriorate and industry forces continue to be stacked against drivers deemed as replaceable, Desiree (alongside the sisterhood of truckers) struggles to find a sustainable path forward at the risk of losing it all once more.

Nesa Azimi’s soulful and contemplative Driver follows Desiree as she strives to leave her tumultuous past behind and navigate toward a more hopeful and stable future. Azimi implements honesty and grounded reality in her storytelling — all while keeping these women’s agency and determination intact. Through this intimate approach, Driver becomes a microcosm of the broken-down but resolute American labor force and investigates this sensitive topic with understated yet deeply felt, empathetic filmmaking. — Jose Rodriguez

*Firelight Media is proud to co-host the third and fourth screenings of this film.

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‘Satisfied,’ Co-dir. Melissa Haizlip | World Premiere

Satisfied is co-directed by Documentary Lab alum Melissa Haizlip (Mr. Soul!) and Chris Bolan. The film offers an intimate look at the actress Renée Elise Goldsberry and her struggle to have a family and balance a career against the backdrop of the hit musical Hamilton.

After the Premiere Screening: A performance by Renée Elise Goldsberry and special guests including Sara Bareilles, Leslie Odom Jr., and Kelli O’Hara.

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‘The Debutantes,’ Dir. Contessa Gayles | World Premiere*

The Debutantes is directed by Documentary Lab Fellow and Impact Campaign Fund grantee Contessa Gayles (Songs from the Hole).

Following a decades-long absence, a new group of Black debutantes dawn on Canton, Ohio, where an intergenerational group of women and girls seek to bring a new source of vibrant energy to the forgotten tradition of the debutante ball. Preparing for the event takes herculean efforts, as waltz and etiquette classes become key for all involved — not to mention the need for escorts to the delightful affair — and traditions and contemporary political ideals come to a head. The elegant white dresses that signify the pristine nature of the event cannot mask the concerns of elitism, colorism and classism tied to the ball’s legacy. What does all of this mean for the young ladies taking the next step into adulthood?

A coming-of-age story rooted in challenging the institutions that formed the bedrock of social standing, while also celebrating their unique import of bridging communal bonds, director Contessa Gayles crafts a delicate portrait of a bygone moment against a modern backdrop. Unearthing questions of performative action and conformity, the film gives voice to a bold new perspective on the clash between the joys of childhood and the realities of forging a new path personally and collectively. — Casey Baron

*Firelight Media is proud to co-host all three screenings of this film.

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‘Power of the Dream,’ Dir. Dawn Porter | World Premiere*

Power of the Dream is directed by Documentary Lab alum Dawn Porter (Spies of Mississippi).

The WNBA has always been underestimated. And that underestimation has always been met with a drive to rise beyond the challenge. Activism meets sports in this documentary that follows the story of the WNBA and how it forever changed the course of U.S. politics.

*Firelight Media is proud to co-host both screenings of this film.

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‘Luther: Never Too Much,’ Dir. Dawn Porter | New York Premiere*

Luther: Never Too Much is directed by Documentary Lab alum Dawn Porter (Spies of Mississippi)

New York native Luther Vandross was born to be a star, and his undeniable talent was positive proof of that. Starting off in the house band at the Apollo Theater, Luther would go on to support David Bowie, Roberta Flack, Bette Midler and many more before breaking through as the dynamic solo vocalist who would dominate R&B charts for decades.

Acclaimed director Dawn Porter handles Luther’s story with care, providing insight to the illustrious singer’s career and personal life. His consummate professionalism, his hard work and his diligence are all captured, but so are his frustrations and his loneliness. With stunning archival footage that provides intimate access to Luther and interviews with those who knew him best, a full picture of him is constructed in this jubilant celebration of the one and only Luther. — Faridah Gbadamosi

*Firelight Media is proud to co-host all three screenings of this film.

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‘Rebel Nun,’ Exec. Producer Dawn Porter | World Premiere

Rebel Nun is Executive Produced by Documentary Lab alum Dawn Porter (Spies of Mississippi).

Rebel Nun Follows the story of Catholic nun and leading death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean, whose story was first captured in the 1995 film Dead Man Walking. Now, almost 30 years later, through unprecedented access and a vast library of over six decades of archival footage, filmmaker Dominic Sivyer takes a look at the life and work of Sister Helen as she continues to be an inspirational force for justice.

Her life may have begun with humble Louisiana roots, but, as we learn through interviews with Sister Helen, key people with whom she works, and victims’ families, it’s a life that continues today in tireless advocacy against the death penalty. As we watch her battle the execution of an Oklahoma Death Row inmate that even lawmakers are convinced is innocent, ultimately the film paints a portrait of resolve, vulnerability, strength and unwavering dedication to justice reform in America. — Deborah Rudolph

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‘Emergent City,’ Exec. Producer Steve Maing | World Premiere

When a string of connected industrial buildings become available in Brooklyn, a group of global developers jump at the opportunity to buy it up with big plans for the future. Nestled against the waterfront in Sunset Park, plans are set in motion — but the beating heart of the community rests with its working class, primarily immigrant residents, many of whom will be displaced once the development changes the entire space. And so the battlelines are drawn between residents, city officials and master planners.

Co-directed by Sunset Park residents Kelly Anderson and Jay Arthur Sterrenberg, this fierce and biting story chronicles the efforts by community leaders to save the soul of their home, juxtaposed against the desires of figures propelled by unfettered ambition. At a time when a housing crisis looms over many metro cities in the U.S., champions for a better path forward light the way as the fate of their city and contemporary urban development hangs in the balance. — Casey Baron

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For more information about the Tribeca Festival and to purchase passes and tickets, visit



Firelight Media

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