Groundwork Maryland: Supporting Emerging Filmmakers in Baltimore

Firelight Media recently brought its Groundwork Regional Lab to Baltimore, Maryland to engage the local independent documentary filmmaking community.

Firelight Media
4 min readMay 19, 2023
A diverse group of Groundwork Regional Lab participants posed in front of a black wall with words “Centre Theatre” printed on it in orange letters.
Groundwork Maryland participants with staff of Firelight Media.

On Friday and Saturday, May 12 and 13, 2023, Firelight Media hosted a Groundwork Regional Lab in Baltimore, Maryland to support local filmmakers and to forge connections within the local independent documentary filmmaking community. The two-day convening was hosted in partnership with Maryland Public Television and the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund.

Groundwork Regional Lab, part of Firelight Media’s Regional Initiatives, is designed to support diverse, emerging documentary filmmakers living and working in under-represented regions of the U.S and U.S territories. By providing an introduction to the documentary landscape and the opportunities that exist for early-career filmmakers, Firelight Media seeks to help position them for national opportunities as well as to increase public television stations’ capacity to leverage the talent of local creators.

Groundwork Maryland participants tour a Maryland Public Television studio.

Groundwork Maryland featured 18 emerging filmmakers from across the state, in addition to filmmakers from the surrounding D.C. and northern Virginia areas. The program began with a documentary shorts program curated by Chloë Walters-Wallace, Firelight Media’s Director of Regional Initiatives, and Jeanelle Augustin, Manager of Film Fellowships & Artist Development at NBCUniversal, designed to showcase the artfulness and innovation that is achievable even in short-form documentaries. The program included Damon Davis: Apologue for the Darkest Gods, directed by Elissa Blount Moorhead as part of season one of Firelight Media and PBS American Masters’ documentary short film series In the Making. Following the short film program was a filmmaker Q&A with Elissa Blount Moorhead, moderated by Chloë Walters-Wallace. Moorehead discussed her filmmaking practice and her experience working with Firelight Media.

The first day of Groundwork Maryland concluded with a conversation with staff and leadership of Maryland Public Television — Donald Thoms, Executive Producer and Consultant, and Kate Pearson, Managing Director of Programming and Acquisitions — about local programming, community engagement, an overview of how to pitch ideas to the station, and upcoming opportunities.

Groundwork Maryland participants inside Maryland Public Televisions’ offices and studios.

Day two of Groundwork Maryland featured an intensive workshop on the Documentary Core Application, a collaboratively-designed application by grantors to standardize application requirements, with the aim of fostering greater access and a more equitable and sustainable documentary field. The program continued with a works-in-progress screening of films by the Groundwork Regional Lab participants.

Groundwork Maryland concluded with another filmmaker Q&A, this one featuring D.C.-based filmmakers Nyjia July (a Firelight Media Documentary Lab alum) and Dawne Langford, each of whom shared work samples for their respective films and discussed lessons learned along each of their journeys applying for funding and pitching their films, moderated by Weenta Girmay, Coordinator of Regional Initiatives at Firelight Media.

The Groundwork Maryland participants were:

  • Chelsea Bailey
  • Pierre Bonnett-Bennu
  • Carla Joelle Brown
  • James Burkhalter
  • Lawrence Burney
  • Cindy Centeno
  • Retji Dakum
  • Dee Dwyer
  • Jacob Garibay
  • Antonio Hernandez
  • LaTonya Joyce
  • Estefany Lara
  • Shanice Martin
  • Najma Nuriddin
  • Nicole Powell
  • Susann Shin
  • Shan Wallace
  • Saaret Yoseph

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. territories; and the William Greaves Research & Development Fund for mid-career nonfiction filmmakers from racially and ethnically underrepresented communities. Firelight Media also produces digital short films, including the forthcoming collection HOMEGROWN: Future Visions.

About Maryland Public Television

Maryland Public Television, commonly known as MPT, is a public television network that broadcasts throughout the entire state of Maryland and the District of Columbia and into parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. MPT is Maryland’s only statewide broadcaster. Headquartered in Owings Mills, MPT is a member of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and is a producer of both locally and nationally distributed TV programs and digital content.

About Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund

Since 2016, the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund has given voice to those who have been denied filmmaking opportunities. The fund has emboldened diverse filmmakers to write, design, produce, and distribute a wide array of visual content, from narrative film to immersive media. The fund is a force for equality and diversity in the film industry, a voice for facts, and an equal playing field for the underrepresented.



Firelight Media

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