The Firelight Media Documentary Lab is an 18-month fellowship program that supports filmmakers from racially and ethnically underrepresented communities working on their first or second feature length documentary film. The Lab provides filmmakers with customized mentorship from prominent leaders in the documentary world, funding, professional development workshops and networking opportunities.
While Firelight previously accepted fellows on a rolling basis, this year, in an effort to broaden regional representation, we implemented an Open Call. Get to know more about the new fellows accepted and the projects they’re working on.
The Age of Water by Isabel Alcántara
About The Age of Water
The small town of La Cantera sits next to a highway, among a row of industrial parks in Mexico. In the past few years, a spate of mysterious illnesses culminated in the death of three little girls. The culprit was finally identified as a rare form of leukemia. Nely Baeza, a single mother of two, almost lost her infant daughter to this disease and this spurred Nely, and a coalition of women in town to act.
The Age of Water takes a deep look into Mexico’s dark business of water through an environmental investigation that tells the story of a resistance movement and the personal costs of seeking truth and security. As Nely’s journey intertwines with the deep-seated interests of the Mexican government, she faces an uphill battle to expose a possible cover up orchestrated by one of the country’s most powerful institutions.
About Isabel Alcántara
Isabel Alcántara (Director) is a Mexican documentary filmmaker with a background in photojournalism from the Newhouse School of Public Communications. In 2012, she and her brother co-founded Ponderosa Productions and, together, they’ve produced short-form non-fiction content for various digital platforms including A&E, History Channel and Bon Appétit. She was part of Chicken & Egg Pictures’ inaugural Accelerator Lab, and is currently a BAVC MediaMaker Fellow. She has also produced multimedia content for Paper Magazine, The New York Times, and is a staff writer for the GLAAD Award-winning queer website, Autostraddle.
An Act of Worship by Nausheen Dadabhoy
About An Act of Worship
Since the election, hate crimes against Muslims have reached their highest level since 9/11. The travel ban, initially blocked but now partially reinstated by order of the Supreme Court, has sent the message that Muslims are not welcome in the US. ‘An Act of Worship’ is about the push back against these developments. The film follows established civil rights organizations like CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) as well as a new generation of youth who have been galvanized into action against the forces of Islamophobia.
About Nausheen Dadabhoy
Nausheen Dadabhoy (Director, DP) is a Pakistani-American director and DP from Southern California. She received her MFA in Cinematography from the American Film Institute. Since graduating, Nausheen has lensed a number of narrative and documentary films, including A Journey of a Thousand Miles (2015) with Academy Award winner Sharmeen Obaid and Geeta Gandbhir, and Girl Unbound(2016), which premiered at TIFF. She also shot La Femme et le TGV (2016), a live action short film Oscar nominee. The Ground Beneath their Feet (2015) — her directorial debut following two Pakistani women after the 2005 earthquake — premiered at IDFA and was nominated for the OXFAM Global Justice Award.
Alabamaland by April Dobbins
Three generations of women — Taffie (62), April (40), and Imani (13) — buck tradition in their own way as they navigate their very different ties to the place that shaped them and continues to exert a strange hold on their identities. Jones Farm is a lush 688-acre black farm situated in the heart of western Alabama. This is the same plot of land that their ancestors once worked as slaves — a history that is important to their identities and to how they navigate the world.
About April Dobbins
April Dobbins is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer based in Miami. She was recently named a 2017 Sundance Institute Knight Fellow. Her work has been published in a number of places, including Calyx Journal, Cimarron Review, Cura, Philadelphia City Paper, and Transition magazine — a publication of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard. She was one of 15 artists invited by renowned photographer Alec Soth to attend his inaugural Camp for Socially Awkward Storytellers at his studio in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her films have screened at festivals across the country, and she is currently in production on her documentary feature, Alabamaland, which chronicles her family’s life and history in the rural South. She is a recipient of the WaveMaker grant and the S. J. Weiler Fund Award, which is made in recognition of exemplary artistic achievement and creativity in the visual arts as well as significant contributions to the arts community. She works at the University of Miami as the Director of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships, and she is an alumna of Grinnell College.
The Evidence of Things Not Seen by Ja’Tovia Gary
About The Evidence of Things Not Seen
In The Evidence of Things Not Seen, a troubled young artist steps through the looking glass on a quest to reconcile with the trans-generational traumas of her family tree. Blending bold, spirited animation with archival footage of the African-American experience and intimate family interviews, celebrated artist Ja’Tovia Gary invites us on an intrepid journey into the nature of self, interconnectivity — and the spells that must be broken if we’re to live truly free.
About Ja’Tovia Gary
Ja’Tovia Gary is a filmmaker and visual artist originally from Dallas, Texas, currently living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She is the recipient of the Sundance Documentary Fund Production Grant and the Jerome Foundation Film and Video Grant. Gary participated in the Terra Foundation of American Art 2016 summer artist fellowship and is the 2017 artist in residence at the Jacob Burns Film Center. Gary’s work is concerned with constructions of power and how historically subjugated beings navigate popular media. She earned her MFA in Social Documentary Filmmaking from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Her work has screened at festivals, cinemas, and institutions worldwide including Frameline LGBTQ Film Festival, Edinburgh International Film Festival, The Whitney Museum, Anthology Film Archives, Atlanta Film Festival, the Schomburg Center, MoMa PS1, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, New Orleans Film Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival and elsewhere.
Neutral Ground by CJ Hunt
About Neutral Ground
Neutral Ground is a feature length documentary following the effort to remove New Orleans’ Confederate monuments, and the ensuing battle over who owns Southern identity. Neutral Ground follows comedian and writer CJ Hunt, a decade-long New Orleans resident, as he works to uncover the historical and ahistorical factors that led to the erection and, this spring, the hard-fought removal of New Orleans’ Confederate Monuments. Along the way, CJ interviews the major players, historians and locals about the legacy of slavery, Southern identity and the future of racial reconciliation across the South.
About CJ Hunt
CJ Hunt is comedy writer and producer living in NYC. He was a staff writer for A&E’s Black and White, and a cast member on MTV2’s Vidiots. He’s is currently directing a documentary about the fight over confederate monuments in New Orleans. CJ is a co-founder of The New Movement ( improv theaters in New Orleans and Austin). There, he is the creator and former-director of Training Camp: TNM’s improv intensives. A member of the sketch group Stupid Time Machine, CJ has performed all over the country — including recent shows at San Francisco Sketchfest, Chicago Sketchfest, iO West, and the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. He is also the co-creator of Sunken City, an original series hailed by press as “the New Portlandia” and featured on Indiewire’s list of web series that could be “the Next Broad City.” A graduate from Brown University in Africana Studies, CJ is endlessly fascinated by race and comedy’s ability to say what we can’t.
Untitled Race & Criminal Justice Project by Ursula Liang
About Untitled Race & Criminal Justice Project
A nuanced look at how two communities of color navigate an uneven criminal justice system, anchored by one polarizing New York City case.
About Ursula Liang
Ursula Liang is a print journalist-turned-filmmaker who has worked for The New York Times Op-Docs, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, ESPN The Magazine, WBAI, Hyphen magazine, the New Yorker Festival, and the 2050 Group. She produced for the films Tough Love, Wo Ai Ni, Mommy and One October and the television shows UFC Primetime and Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge. Liang grew up in Newton, MA and lives in the Bronx, NY. Her award-winning debut feature, 9-Man, was broadcast on public television.
How to Have an American Baby by Leslie Tai
More about How to Have an American Baby
There is a city in Southern California that is teeming with pregnant women from China. Told through multiple perspectives, How to Have an American Baby is a kaleidoscopic voyage into the shadow economy catering to Chinese birth tourists who travel to the U.S. on “birthing vacations,” in order to obtain U.S. citizenship for their babies — chronicling the fortunes and tragedies that befall the ordinary people caught in the web of its influence.
More about Leslie Tai
Leslie Tai is an award-winning Chinese-American filmmaker from San Francisco, CA. Her documentary shorts have premiered at Tribeca Film Festival, MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight, IDFA, and Visions du Réel. In 2007, Tai became a Fulbright Scholar to China. From 2007–2011, she made and exhibited her work in the New Independent Chinese Documentary Movement, as a student of radical Chinese filmmaker Wu Wenguang, and a resident artist of Caochangdi Workstation, Wu’s documentary studio in Beijing. Her short film The Private Life of Fenfen (2013), a multi-layered representation of a young Chinese migrant worker’s video diaries, won Best Film at Kassel Dokfest (Germany) and Images Festival (Toronto). In 2013, she received the Emerging Filmmaker Award from the San Diego Asian Film Festival for Grave Goods(2013) and Superior Life Classroom (2012). Leslie was named filmmaker to watch by Asia Pacific Arts’ “Best of Asian-American Cinema 2013.” She holds a B.A. in Design | Media Arts from UCLA, and an M.F.A. in Documentary Film and Video from Stanford University.