Updated: Firelight Media x SXSW 2023

Firelight Media
8 min readMar 3, 2023

Firelight Media brought its Beyond Resilience series to SXSW and Firelight-supported filmmakers presented award-winning world premieres.

An photograph of Isabel Castro, Sabaah Folayan, Stanley Nelson, and Fredara Hadley seated on white recliners on stage at SXSW against a black cloth backdrop and a SXSW banner.

Firelight Media and its community of filmmakers were well-represented at SXSW 2023 through panel presentations, award-winning film premieres, and special awards recognition. This year’s SXSW festival will took place March 10–19 in Austin, Texas, with select programming available online.

Beyond Resilience: Making Music Docs That Aren’t One Note

Firelight Media brought its Beyond Resilience series to SXSW on Monday, March 13 at the Austin Convention Center (Room 12AB). Beyond Resilience: Making Music Docs That Aren’t One Note was a conversation featuring BIPOC filmmakers whose documentaries go beyond one-note celebrity profiles to interrogate the power of music and musicians to shape and advance culture.

Legendary filmmaker and Firelight Media Co-Founder Stanley Nelson (Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool) was joined by Sabaah Folayan (Look at Me: XXXTentacion), interim director of our Documentary Lab and a Documentary Lab alum, and Documentary Lab alum Isabel Castro (Mija), whose films leverage the music doc genre to explore urgent issues such as mental health, immigration, and intimate partner violence. The panel explored the craft behind making music documentaries and provided a behind-the-scenes look at how filmmakers work with artists, their families, and their estates to create truthful and balanced portraits of their subjects. The panel was moderated by Fredara Hadley, ethnomusicology professor at Juilliard.

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SXSW Community Service Awards: Honoring Sabaah Folayan

An image of Sabaah Folayan accepting an award at a podium on stage at SXSW against a brightly lit purple background.

On Monday, March 13 at 6pm at the Austin Convention Center (Ballroom D), SXSW hostedthe SXSW Community Service Awards, where Firelight Media’s own Sabaah Folayan was among the honorees. Sabaah was honored for her work as interim director of Firelight Media’s Documentary Lab as well as her activism and community work.

For 2023, the Community Service Awards honored five amazing leaders who represent the four main pillars of SXSW (Education, Film, Music, and Technology) — plus one additional award designated for an Austin-based organization. All five of these honorees have developed unique and forward-thinking solutions to address the challenges of the specific community they serve.

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World Premiere: Cecilia Aldarondo’s ‘You Were My First Boyfriend’

Documentary Lab alum and Impact Campaign Fund grantee Cecilia Aldarondo had the World Premiere of her hybrid documentary You Were My First Boyfriend. What if you could rewrite your adolescence? In this high school reunion movie turned inside out, Cecilia embarks on a fantastical quest to reconcile her tortured teen years. She ‘goes back’ in more ways than one, tracking down old foes and friends while also reenacting visceral memories of youthful humiliation and desire.

Oscillating between present and past, hallucination and reality, You Were My First Boyfriend explores the power of adolescent fantasy, the subtle violence of cultural assimilation, and the fun house mirror of time’s passage. Perhaps we will all learn something about growing older and making peace with what haunts us.

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World Premiere: Dawn Porter’s ‘The Lady Bird Diaries’ (Winner of the SXSW Lone Star Award)

An image of “Lady Bird” Johnson seated on a sofa with newspaper clipings over the SXSW Film Awards logo and the words “The Lady Bird Diaries”

From Documentary Lab alum and award-winning filmmaker Dawn Porter comes The Lady Bird Diaries, a groundbreaking all-archival documentary film about Lady Bird Johnson, one of the most influential and least understood First Ladies. The feature film looks at the 123 hours of personal and revealing audio diaries that Lady Bird recorded during her husband’s administration. The film reveals Lady Bird as an astute observer of character and culture and a savvy political strategist. It recasts her crucial role in LBJ’s presidency and brings viewers behind the scenes of one of the most tumultuous and consequential periods in modern American history.

The film won the SXSW Lone Star Award, presented to a feature film world premiering at SXSW that was shot primarily in Texas or directed by a current resident of Texas. The jury sad, “The Lady Bird Diaries celebrates an iconic Texan and exalts her Texanhood. Dawn Porter uses only archival treasures to craft a film of visual magnetism and narrative momentum — a real feat. And yet, her film is no hagiography. Through Porter’s savvy direction, viewers are encouraged to sit with the fascinating contradictions of Lady Bird’s politics, passions and place in time. Documentary examinations of the Johnson era are thick on the ground, but the first lady’s intimate confessions open up a rare bloom.”

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World Premiere: Luchina Fisher’s ‘The Dads’

Firelight Media Spark Fund recipient Luchina Fisher presented the World Premiere of her documentary short film The Dads, which centers around six dads who gather in rural Oklahoma for a weekend fishing trip. As the men cast their rods into the river, share their catch over dinner, and swap stories beside the bonfire, we learn what has brought them to this scenic idyll: the love for their trans and LGBTQ children, their fears for their kids’ safety, and the urgency to fight for the ground on which they all stand. The Dads is a quiet meditation on fatherhood, brotherhood and manhood amid the changing American landscape.

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North American Premiere: Roopa Gogineni’s ‘Suddenly TV’ (Winner of the SXSW Documentary Short Special Jury Award)

FRONTLINE/Firelight Fellowship alum Roopa Gogineni had the North American premiere of her documentary short film Suddenly TV.

In April 2019, after the fall of President Omar al-Bashir, Sudanese from across the country make their way to Khartoum to demand civilian rule. Protestors occupy the military headquarters, setting up tents and constructing barricades. In this liminal space, a group of young revolutionaries create an imaginary television station. What begins as play becomes an urgent conjuring of a new Sudan.

The film won a Special Jury Award, with the jury stating: “Roopa Gogineni’s Suddenly TV took us into the heart of Sudan’s youth-led movement where creativity finds a way to flourish as a form of resistance. Gogineni’s embedded filmmaking offers an intimate perspective on the relationship between power and storytelling and what happens when the people start to tell their own story.”

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SXSW EDU: Byron Hurt’s ‘Hazing’ Screening + Q&A

Documentary Lab alum and William Greaves Research & Development Fund grantee Byron Hurt presented a special screening of his documentary Hazing along with a Q&A at SXSW EDU.

In Hazing, Byron visits with members of a variety of groups that practice hazing, talks to survivors of hazing, and gives voice to the families of young people who lost their lives. Expertly weaving these first-hand testimonies with insights from violence-prevention experts, the film provides a nuanced and empathetic portrait of a culture that confers a sense of belonging even as it too often leads to violence and institutional coverups.

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World Premiere: ‘Another Body,’ Nausheen Dadabhoy (Cinematographer) (Winner of the SXSW Documentary Feature Special Jury Award for Innovation in Storytelling)

Documentary Lab alum and Impact Campaign Fund grantee Nausheen Dadabhoy is cinematographer for Another Body, which had its World Premiere at SXSW. Another Body follows a college student’s search for justice after she discovers deepfake pornography of herself circulating online.

The film won a Special Jury Award, with the jury saying, ““Another Body is a powerful film that is timely, unsettling, and innovative in its storytelling. The use of deep fake technology is on the rise, and directors Sophie Compton and Reuben Hamlyn cleverly and thoughtfully employ it — by deep faking the subjects of the film to protect their identities — to simultaneously convey what it’s capable of as well as its dangers. This creative and powerful technique underscores the film’s message, and will leave you feeling shock and awe.”

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Texas Premiere: ‘Going Varsity in Mariachi’, Julia Pontecorvo (Producer)

Firelight Media Series Producer Julia Pontecorvo is a producer of Going Varsity In Mariachi, which had its Texas premiere at SXSW after having its World Premiere at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

In the competitive world of high school mariachi, the musicians from the South Texas borderlands reign supreme. Under the guidance of Coach Abel Acuña, the teenage captains of Edinburg North High School’s acclaimed team must turn a shoestring budget and diverse crew of inexperienced musicians into state champions.

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About Firelight Media

Firelight Media is a premier destination for non-fiction 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 emerging filmmakers in the American south, midwest, and U.S. territories; and the William Greaves Research & Development Fund, for mid-career nonfiction filmmakers from racially and ethnically underrepresented communities, among others. Firelight Media also produces digital short film series, including the forthcoming season two of In the Making, with PBS American Masters, and a collection of regional short films, Homegrown: Future Visions, with the Center for Asian American Media.

About SXSW

South by Southwest® dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals. Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW® is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of tech, film, music, education, and culture. An essential destination for global professionals, the annual March event features sessions, music and comedy showcases, film screenings, exhibitions, professional development, and a variety of networking opportunities. SXSW proves that the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together.

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Firelight Media

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