Introducing the 2020–2022 Firelight Media Documentary Lab Fellows

Clockwise from top left: Christopher Everett, Jude Chehab, Ivy MacDonald, Sierra Urich, Ivan MacDonald, Brittany Shyne, and Jota Sosnowski.
Clockwise from top left: Tadashi Nakamura, Isabel Castro, Nyjia July, Eloise King, Zack Khalil, Robie Flores, and Adam Khalil.

Firelight Media’s flagship 18-month fellowship program supporting Black, Indigenous, and other filmmakers of color is now in its eleventh year.

NEW YORK — October 29, 2020 — Firelight Media today announced the newest cohort of Fellows selected to the Documentary Lab, the organization’s flagship mentoring program. Firelight, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is proud to cap off an especially tumultuous year by looking ahead to the industry’s future through these 14 emerging filmmakers with wide-ranging backgrounds and perspectives.

Firelight co-founders Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith launched the Documentary Lab in 2009 as a fellowship program to support filmmakers of color working on their first or second feature length documentary film. Today, the Lab provides filmmakers with funding, customized mentorship from prominent leaders in the documentary world, professional development workshops, and networking opportunities. Firelight also awards a $15,000 grant for each project accepted into the Documentary Lab.

The projects the new class bring to the Fellowship range from stories of generational Black farmers in the American South, the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Montana, and personal stories centered around family, immigration, ancestry, identity, and more.

“It has been an extraordinarily challenging year for documentary filmmakers, especially emerging filmmakers of color, which Firelight’s Documentary Lab is designed to support,” said Loira Limbal, Firelight Media’s SVP for Programs. “Between the dual crises of the global pandemic and the national reckoning with racist violence in the U.S., filmmakers like the 14 Fellows we’ve just welcomed into the Lab need funding, professional networks, and a supportive community of peers perhaps more than ever before. Firelight is proud to provide this support at a such crucial time in the careers of these filmmakers and at this moment in our nation’s history.”

With the announcement of the new cohort for 2020–2022, Firelight Media will have supported over 100 filmmakers through the Documentary Lab over the last 11 years. 2020 has been a banner year for previous Doc Lab fellows, who released many timely projects across a variety of digital platforms including Dawn Porter (2011), who directed two well-regarded political films this year — John Lewis: Good Trouble, an intimate account of the congressman and civil rights icon’s life and legacy, and The Way I See It, a documentary on former White House photographer Pete Souza which aired on MSNBC earlier this month; and Yoruba Richen (2010), who directed The Sit In: Harry Belafonte Hosts the Tonight Show for NBC’s Peacock, as well as The Killing of Breonna Taylor, presented by The New York Times on FX.

Also, several Documentary Lab alums, including Sofian Khan (2017), Malika Zouhali-Worrall (2016), Ciara Lacy (2015), Ligaiya Romero (2018), and Ray Santisteban (2017) directed short films as part of Firelight Media and American Masters’s new film series In The Making, which launched earlier this month. Past Lab fellows have won every major industry award including Peabody, Emmy, Ridenhour, and IDA Awards, and have premiered at major 2020 film festivals including Tribeca, Hot Docs, Full Frame, BlackStar, and at DOC NYC next month.

The 2020–2022 Documentary Lab fellows are:

Isabel Castro, Mija — Doris Muñoz is an ambitious music manager whose undocumented family depends on her ability to discover aspiring pop stars. This documentary dives into the world of a young woman hustling harder than anyone else, because for Doris and her family, “making it” isn’t just a dream — it’s a necessity.

Jude Chehab, Q — For over fifty years, a Syrian movement has been secretly growing into the largest Muslim women’s organization in the world. This documentary takes us deep into the mysterious, unspoken-of world of the Qubaysiat, the regime-loving Sufis turned cult followers, through the relationship of the filmmaker, her mother, and her grandmother to the group.

Christopher Everett, Grandmaster — A former karate champion struggles through declining health to preserve the martial arts that have defined his life. Grandmaster illuminates the legacy of Victor Moore and reveals the impact that martial arts has had on Black communities and culture since the 1960s.

Robie Flores, The In Between — A lyrical coming-of-age portrait of growing up on the U.S./Mexico border. Woven from the daily lives of children in the sister cities of Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, the film celebrates and explores how the fronterizo identity takes shape.

Nyjia July, Listen To My Heartbeat — A look at the gentrification of Washington, D.C. through the lens of Go-Go music. This documentary peels back the layers on a changing city, the people displaced, and the future of the music that gave them a voice.

Adam & Zack Khalil, Aanikoobijigan [ancestor/great-grandparent/great-grandchild] — Locked away in the sterile storage of museums and archives, our ancestor’s remains struggle to find their way home. This film follows eleven Indigenous repatriation specialists that make up MACPRA (Michigan Anishinaabek Cultural Preservation & Repatriation Alliance), fighting to rebury and return ancestors from settler-colonial libraries, archives, and museums.

Eloise King, Untitled Scholars Project — A collaborative endeavor based on the research of sociologist and professor Patricia Kingori exploring knowledge production and the value of global education.

Ivan & Ivy MacDonald, When They Were Here — A documentary focused on the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls crisis in the state of Montana. The story is told through the memories of loved ones and three separate families as they seek justice within an unjust system.

Tadashi Nakamura, Third Act — A deep dive into the life and work of pioneering photographer and filmmaker Robert A. Nakamura, made by his son. On the surface, the documentary is a biography of the elder filmmaker’s public role as “the Godfather of Asian American film,” but with his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, the film poses a question at once personal and universal: how can a father and son say goodbye?

Brittany Shyne, Seeds — A portrait of an African-American Centennial Farm in Thomasville, Georgia. Using lyrical black and white imagery, this meditative film examines the decline of generational Black farmers and the significance of owning land.

Jota Sosnowski, Between Goodbyes — A hybrid documentary that reframes adoption as a form of family separation through the intimate voices of a queer adoptee and her birth mother.

Sierra Urich, Joonam — A filmmaker uncovers her family’s Iranian past. Excavating the formative memories of her grandmother, mother, and self, the documentary explores the evolving shape of girlhood — and, with it, the complex relationships between mother and daughter, Iran and America, and the immigrant experience as it ripples over time.

Learn more about Firelight Media’s Documentary Lab by visiting



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