Introducing the 2022–2024 Firelight Media Documentary Lab Fellows

Firelight Media
5 min readDec 7, 2022

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

A composite of black & white headshots of the 14 filmmakers in our 2022–2024 Documentary Lab cohort against a dark purple background with an orange and red swirl across it.

Firelight Media today announced the newest cohort of Fellows selected to the Firelight Documentary Lab, the organization’s flagship mentoring program. Firelight Media is proud to cap off the year by looking ahead to the industry’s future through these 14 emerging filmmakers with wide-ranging backgrounds and perspectives.

Firelight Media 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 retreats, and networking opportunities. Firelight Media awards a $25,000 grant for each project accepted into the Documentary Lab.

The projects the new class brings to the Fellowship include stories of transgender and nonbinary protagonists in search of supportive communities; profiles of politicians and activists seeking to reform racially biased policies and practices in housing and policing; an exploration of the legacy and contributions of disabled visual artists; and an investigation into the disproportionately high rate of breast cancer deaths among Black women.

“We are excited to welcome this talented new cohort of filmmakers to our Documentary Lab,” said Leticia Peguero, Firelight Media’s Senior Vice President. “Now more than ever we need documentaries that are representative of, and accountable to, the protagonists and communities they center. And we need filmmakers who are motivated to challenge dominant narratives about communities of color by representing their lived realities.”

The 2022–2024 Documentary Lab fellows and their projects are:

  • Neelu Bhuman, Chiragu (Wing) — Young Muslim transman Adam Harry dreams of becoming a commercial pilot. After escaping pernicious family persecution, he is armed with a Kerala government scholarship, a growing fanbase, and media presence. Will this be enough to help Adam defy bureaucratic discrimination and continue his training to become the first transgender commercial pilot of Indian origin?
  • D.A. Bullock, Mister Backlash — After the murder of George Floyd sparks a global ripple of racial reckoning, a young Black Minneapolis city council member leads the movement to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a visionary new Department for Public Safety. Despite the unprecedented waves of local and national support, he is met with a punishing pushback from the forces of money and power. This film is witness to the brutal racial backlash politics leading up to a citywide vote and how the people of a city might rise from the ashes.
  • Silvia Castaños & Estefania Contreras, Hummingbirds — In this late-night summer self-portrait, Silvia Castaños and Estefanía Contreras make magic of everyday moments coming of age on the Texas-Mexico border.
  • Naveen Chaubal, Pinball Pinball is a coming-of-age journey that follows a 19-year-old boy in suburban Louisville, Kentucky as he navigates adulthood in the shadow of a war that displaced his family from their Iraqi homeland.
  • Paulina Davis, The Co-op: The Kids of Dorie Miller — A New Yorker explores her family’s roots in New York City’s first unsegregated housing co-op, finding and examining an old solution to the current affordable housing crisis.
  • Athena Jones, Sisters’ Keepers — In this intimate documentary inspired by the filmmaker’s own story as a breast cancer survivor diagnosed twice in her 30s, Jones investigates why Black women in America are on average 40% more likely to die of the disease than white women and explores whether adjusting screening guidelines for Black women could save more lives.
  • Logan Rozos, What Will I Become? — A feature documentary weaving together the stories of two trans boys who died by suicide and the trans masculine+ community surviving the suppression and isolation that comes with binary masculinity, while offering resources and imagination for a way forward.
  • Juliana Schatz Preston, Providencia — After her brother is killed, a Colombian woman watches family members magically lose their memory, one by one. In a country that has often chosen to forget its violent past, Paola wonders what her fate will be.
  • Jiayan “Jenny” Shi, Untitled Scientist Project — When a respected Chinese American scientist comes under scrutiny by the FBI for national security concerns, he suffers irreversible personal and societal consequences.
  • Tsanavi Spoonhunter, Holder of the Sky — A modern-day American story of colonization that documents three Wisconsin Tribes’ battle to reclaim the historic treaty promises made to them in the face of longstanding racism and lingering land lust.
  • Lendl Tellington, …that’s why He made momma — With their matriarch ill and her home facing foreclosure, a brother and sister turn the camera on four generations of their family in order to reimagine their legacy. As the siblings sift through memories and history, they chronicle the ingenuity of generational single Black motherhood and grapple with its inheritance.
  • Reveca Torres, Untitled (Art and Disability Culture) — Artist Reveca Torres envisions how her disabled ancestors Frida Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh, and Henri Matisse lived and created. Through letters and artifacts, she finds that they’ve made a path for contemporary disabled artists and their struggles parallel her own. As Reveca connects with present day artists with disabilities, together they imagine and work towards a society in which the barriers they face no longer exist and disability art and culture is celebrated.
  • Raven Two Feathers, Indigenous Genders — Indigenous Genders braids the inter-generational lives of four Indigenous people across the U.S. into an exploration of the joys of being outside the gender binary through juxtapositions of nature and community.

Firelight Media has supported over 120 filmmakers of color through the Documentary Lab over the last 13 years as part of its mission to make the nonfiction film industry — and public media in particular — more inclusive. Recent Documentary Lab alumni include Jessica Kingdon, who received an Academy Award nomination earlier this year for her debut feature Ascension; Isabel Castro, whose debut feature Mija premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and was recently nominated for an Independent Spirit Award; and Jon-Sesrie Goff, whose debut feature After Sherman was recently nominated for a Cinema Eye Honor Award.

Funding support for Firelight Media’s Documentary Lab is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Wyncote Foundation, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, Park Foundation, The New York Community Trust, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

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 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 a forthcoming collection of regional short films Homegrown: Future Visions (piloted as Hindsight), in partnership with the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) and PBS Digital Studios, and IN THE MAKING, produced in partnership with PBS American Masters.

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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.