Groundwork Minnesota: Supporting Emerging Filmmakers in the Twin Cities

In October, Firelight Media hosted a Groundwork Regional Lab in Saint Paul, Minnesota, convening 14 midwestern filmmakers of color for three days of programming around documentary film development, production, and distribution.

Groundwork Minnesota filmmakers touring Twin Cities PBS.

For the final Groundwork Regional Lab of 2022, Firelight Media traveled to Saint Paul, Minnesota to gather with 14 local BIPOC filmmakers for an intensive three-day program designed to introduce them to opportunities for documentary media production in their community.

Hosted in partnership with Twin Cities PBS, Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN), The Walker Art Center, and FilmNorth, Groundwork Minnesota featured presentations by documentary industry leaders, a curated short film program, an on-the-ground guide to working with local PBS stations as an independent filmmaker, and workshops on grant writing, designing pitch decks, and creating work samples.

Groundwork Minnesota filmmakers tour Twin Cities PBS with PBS Executive Producer Daniel Bergin.

Firelight Media’s Groundwork Regional Lab supports 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, our goal is to help position them for national opportunities as well as to increase public television stations’ capacity to leverage the talent and content of diverse, local makers.

Groundwork Minnesota was hosted by Firelight Media’s Director of Regional Initiatives, Chloë Walters-Wallace, and organized by Weenta Girmay, Coordinator of Regional Initiatives. Lab facilitators included Jeanelle Augustin, a film programmer and grants professional who currently leads the Original Voices Fellowship presented by NBCU Academy and NBC News Studios, and Amir George, who was recently named Artistic Director for Kartemquin Films. Guest speakers included Ajuawak Kapashesit, the director of a new documentary short film Language Keepers as part of Firelight Media’s forthcoming collection HOMEGROWN: Future Visions; Daniel Bergin, a PBS Executive Producer and award-winning documentary filmmaker for Twin Cities PBS; Leya Hale, an award-winning producer for Twin Cities PBS; and Andrew Peterson, the Executive Director of FilmNorth.

Left to right: Daniel Bergin, Leya Hale, and Sergio Rapu.

The Groundwork convening in Saint Paul also included works-in-progress discussions with Firelight Media-supported filmmakers. Documentary Lab alumni Ashley Tyner and William Tyner gave a talk about their latest film, which is currently in production, that follows the lives of three Black women leading the movement for Black liberation in the Twin Cities. And Sergio Rapu, who recently completed a documentary short film as part of Firelight Media and PBS American Masters’ documentary series IN THE MAKING, joined a conversation about working with local PBS stations.

“Firelight Media was thrilled to return to in-person convenings of the Groundwork Regional Lab in recent months after holding virtual retreats in the spring,” said Chloë Walters-Wallace, Director of Regional Initiatives. “We were so impressed by the talent of the local filmmaker community in Saint Paul, and we are grateful to our partners at Twin Cities PBS, Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, The Walker Art Center, and Film North for warmly welcoming the Groundwork participants. We look forward to seeing the collaborations that will result from these new connections between filmmakers and organizations.”

The 14 filmmakers who participated in Groundwork Minnesota are:

  • Abdifatah Abdi — Abdifatah works full time at Twin Cities Public Television as a production assistant. He made his directorial debut in 2018 by directing two short films, A Family Pain and Captive. In 2021, he screened his short documentary Muslim Women in Tech.
  • Troy Amlee/Akičita Šuŋka-Wakaŋ Ska (White Horse Warrior) — Akičita is a journalist, videographer, and editor with Unicorn Riot, making short films on various community-, political-, and activist-related issues such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, police brutality, Indigenous culture and arts, teacher strikes, and the 2,522 mile Mississippi Paddle, as well as a collaboration with Karthik Pandian on In The River as a videographer.
  • Devon Young Cupery — Devon (she/her) is a mixed-race Chinese American documentary filmmaker and community organizer. In 2021, she directed, filmed, and edited the documentary short Seeds of Hope, distributed by the Asian American Documentary Network and PBS WORLD Channel. Devon is a 2022 Saint Paul Neighborhood Network New Angle Fellow.
  • Kehinde Olumide Famule — Kehinde is a Nigerian-American artist and filmmaker passionate about producing meaningful art that encourages others to explore local cultures and inspires curiosity about their environment and the global community.
  • Sequoia Hauck — Sequoia (they/them) is a Anishinaabe & Hupa queer multidisciplinary artist. They make art surrounding the narratives of continuation and resiliency among their communities. Sequoia’s film Resiliency is Inherited was in the 2022 North by North International Film Festival along with the dance film they created in collaboration with Taja Will, LÍNEAS de SANGRE.
  • Pallav Kumar — Pallav is a queer, South Asian-American filmmaker whose work utilizes journalistic practice, film, and animation to spur conversation around important social issues. Pallav is currently in production on Second Opinion, a personal short documentary film exploring the history of western medicine and poor health outcomes for people of color.
  • Prakshi Malik — Prakshi is an award-winning filmmaker and dancer creating cinema about women of color from a global perspective. Her short film BAAHAR was awarded the 2020 Short Film Grant by Austin Film Society and premiered at the New Orleans Film Festival. Prakshi has edited award-winning films ranging from a narrative feature to short documentaries.
  • Thet Oo Maung — Thet is a dedicated humanitarian, self-taught painter, photographer, and videographer. He has used his camera skills to amplify the voices of those who have been marginalized, forgotten about, or silenced. He organized and ran the first underground human rights film festival in Burma, the “One Step Film Forum.” After the Burmese military coup in February 2021, he was exiled from his home country and resettled with his family in the United States.
  • Nia Navarro — Nia (she/they/elle) is a queer Mexican nascent filmmaker, community organizer, event coordinator, and healing arts apprentice with a passion and raw talent for conjuring visionary realities. Their artistry rises out of embers destitute by dominant power structures, and is quenched by tales of hope, resilience, and love. As an alumni of Saint Paul Neighborhood Network’s 2021 DocU Fellowship and Spotlight Series Shorts, she is positioning her artistic voice and prowess towards creating community-centered documentaries. Other credits include production assistant for Season 4 of TPT’s ART IS…, camera operator for Zitkála-Šá Opera Documentary, and producer of the short independent narrative film My Mama Can’t Swim.
  • Sara Osman — Sara is a Somali-American writer, storyteller, and filmmaker. She co-founded The Qalanjo Project, a Somali arts community organization in Minneapolis. Sara is interested in exploring identity, space, and memory as it relates to the experiences of young people in the Somali diaspora and reimagining personal narratives through filmmaking.
  • Andrés A. Parra — Andrés is a director, cinematographer, producer, and editor who grew up in Caracas, Venezuela and moved to the United States to study Mechanical Engineering and Film and Video production. Andrés’s film without papers was an official selection for the 2017 MSPIFF and won Best Documentary at the 2017 Saint Paul Frozen Film Festival and the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards. Andrés also won a Telly award for his camera work in the documentary Building a New World. In 2022, Andrés received the Best Cinematography award for the short piece Añoranza (Nostalgia), a music video entry for Z-Fest Film Festival.
  • Jordan Lee Thompson — Jordan is a media/narrative artist and educator of mixed-ancestry. He works in video production, projection, animation, performance, and other new media to combine his passions of participatory art, microsociology, and speculative storytelling towards the goal of envisioning and creating the future he wants to live in. Jordan has produced, performed, directed, or projected at the Guthrie Theater, the Cowles Center, the Southern Theater, Intermedia Arts, the Phoenix Theater, O’Shaughnessy Auditorium, Public Functionary, and the University of Iowa Museum of Art, among others. He is currently Executive Director of the social enterprise nonprofit Listen Up Youth Radio, working with a collective of youth media makers in radio broadcast and audio storytelling.
  • Kazua Melissa Vang — Kazua is a Hmong-American multidisciplinary artist, filmmaker, photographer, and cultural producer. She co-founded the Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) Minnesota Film Collective to create, promote, and empower underrepresented MN filmmakers. Kazua has worked as a production manager for an independent pilot titled NICE, an official selection under Indie Episodic Category at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. Her first short film RHAUB was an official selection at the 2018 Qhia Dab Neeg Film Festival in Saint Paul, MN. Currently, she is developing her feature film and a documentary and portrait series, HMOOB DUBBERS. She is in pre-production for the documentary, a working title, HMONG FUNERALS.
  • Za’Nia Coleman — Za’Nia is an interdisciplinary artist experimenting with textiles, digital media, and cultural curation. Her primary medium is film focusing on documentary, oral history, and digital projections. Her goal is to experiment with how to visualize the intersections of the archive, black folklore, and black science fiction. She is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Tangible Collective, an art collective that creates space devoted to Black Millennial thought and expression.

For more information about Firelight Media and our artist programs, including the Groundwork Regional Lab, please visit



Firelight Media produces documentary films, supports nonfiction filmmakers of color, and cultivates audiences for their work. We’re #changingthestory.

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Firelight Media

Firelight Media produces documentary films, supports nonfiction filmmakers of color, and cultivates audiences for their work. We’re #changingthestory.