Firelight Media announced today their newest cohort of Fellows selected to the Firelight DocumentaryLab, the organization’s flagship mentoring program which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The group of 12 filmmakers are culturally diverse, with impressive backgrounds ranging from public media, cultural promotion, and community organizing to investigative journalism and anthropology. Several new fellows will also be in attendance at the Documentary Lab’s 10th Anniversary Gala tonight (November 7) in Harlem, NY. The event will cap off a banner year for the program, celebrating the Doc Lab’s growth and accomplishments in the last decade, and fundraising to help expand Firelight’s continuing work to support and develop documentary filmmakers of color.
Firelight co-founders Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith launched the Documentary Lab in 2009 as a fellowship program to support diverse filmmakers working on their first or second feature length documentary film. Today, the Lab provides filmmakers with customized mentorship from prominent leaders in the documentary world, funding, professional development workshops, and networking opportunities. In addition, Firelight has provided over $650,000 in grants to 40 documentary projects through its Next Step Fund since 2003. this year, Firelight announced a grant of $15,000 for each filmmaker accepted into the Lab.
The projects the new class bring to the Fellowship range from stories of China’s industrial supply chain through its accelerated economy, to the legacy of land and inheritance along the Santee river in South Carolina — from healing intergenerational family trauma, to a community of women truck drivers organizing in the time of the Me Too movement.
“This cohort embodies the very best of documentary films and tells the vital stories of our day from a diversity of perspectives, regions, and cinematic language. We are incredibly excited to welcome them into the Firelight family,” says Vice President and Documentary Lab Director, Loira Limbal.
Over the last decade, Firelight has supported the voices and careers of over 120 filmmakers of color, including award-winning Jackie Olive (Always in Season), PJ Raval (Call Her Ganda), Cristina Ibarra (The Infiltrators), Chelsea Hernandez (Building the American Dream) and Jeff Palmer (Words from a Bear). Lab fellows have won every major industry award including Peabody, Emmy, Ridenhour, and IDA Awards, and have premiered at major 2019 film festivals including Sundance, Tribeca, Hot Docs, Full Frame, and AFI Docs.
Get to know more about the new cohort of 2019–2021 Documentary Lab fellows and the projects they’re working on.
Drowned Land by Colleen Thurston
About Drowned Land
Oklahoma is a land of scenic lakes, ideal for recreation and weekend getaways. But these lakes are man-made, a result of the federal government flooding private property and the forced displacement of the people who called the lands beneath home.
Buffalo Soldiers of the Pacific Northwest by Dru Holley
About Buffalo Soldiers of the Pacific Northwest
The film follows the story of African-American soldiers who served between the Civil War and the 20th century and their impact in the Pacific Northwest.
Fruits of Labor by Emily Cohen Ibañez
About Fruits of Labor
A Mexican-American teenager dreams of graduating high school when increased ICE raids in her community threaten to separate her family and force her to become the breadwinner.
Silent Beauty by Jasmin Mara López
About Silent Beauty
An autobiographical exploration of the filmmaker’s family history with child sexual abuse and a culture of silence.
Untitled PRC Project by Jessica Kingdon
About Untitled PRC Project
A portrait of China’s industrial supply chain through its accelerated economy in an increasingly consumer driven yet repressive society.
After Sherman by Jon Sesrie Goff
About After Sherman
A story about inheritance and the tension that defines our collective American history. The film explores coastal South Carolina as a site of pride and racial trauma through Gullah cultural retention and land preservation.
BARTOLO by Leandro Fabrizi
In a rural town, tucked in the mountains of Lares, Puerto Rico, ten families decide to move into an abandoned school building and transform it into their new living quarters.
Changing State: Black Diplomats, Civil Rights, and the Cold War by Leola Calzolai-Stewart
About Changing State: Black Diplomats, Civil Rights, and the Cold War
The film depicts the fight for inclusion in American diplomacy as told through the lives of three African-American ambassadors: Edward R. Dudley, Terence Todman, and Carl Rowan.
DRIVER by Nesa Azimi
The documentary immerses us in a community of women truck drivers. Threatened by routine sexual violence and bound by a system where multi-billion dollar megacarriers and oppressive regulatory regimes conspire to leave the individual driver powerless and disposable — Desiree and her fellow drivers band together to survive.
Mini & Vivi by Patrick G. Lee
About Mini & Vivi
The film follows a charismatic, long-distance friendship between two trans women as a way to explore the possibilities for queer solidarity across the Korean diaspora — and the nation-state violence and cultural misperceptions that necessitate it.
Schools’ Challenge Quiz by Sasha-Gay Lewis
AboutSchools’ Challenge Quiz
The documentary follows a group of Jamaican high school students, their families and communities as they prepare and compete in a battle of will and intellect on a televised quiz show.
The Road to Sabarimala by Shilpa Kunnappillil
About The Road to Sabarimala
An exploration of the shifting perspectives of Indian women as their traditions come into conflict with their rights. The film follows three women who risk their lives to enter the sacred Hindu temple of Sabarimala, amidst an exceedingly dangerous political climate.
About the Documentary Lab Firelight Media is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting emerging documentary filmmakers who tell stories about communities and issues that are underrepresented in the mainstream media. Firelight’s programs include the Documentary Lab, an 18-month fellowship that supports emerging filmmakers of color; and Groundwork, a program that supports early stage filmmakers in the American south, midwest, and U.S. Territories. In addition to a focus on excellence in filmmaking, Firelight develops strategies to reach and engage diverse audiences.