Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith’s Firelight Media revealed the newest cohort of fellows selected for the non-profit organization’s flagship mentoring program, Firelight Documentary Lab.
Firelight selected 14 emerging filmmakers to participate in the program, with projects around 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 and identity.
Nelson and Smith launched the lab in 2009 as a fellowship program to support filmmakers of color working on their first or second feature documentary. Today, the lab provides filmmakers with funding, customized mentorship with leaders in the documentary world, professional development workshops and networking opportunities.
Firelight also provides a US$15,000 grant for each project selected.
“It has been an extraordinarily challenging year for documentary filmmakers, especially emerging filmmakers of color, which Firelight’s Documentary Lab is designed to support,” Loira Limbal, Firelight Media’s SVP for programs, said in a statement. “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.”
With the announcement of the new cohort, Firelight Media will have supported more than 100 filmmakers through the Documentary Lab over the last 11 years.
Previous Doc Lab fellows include Dawn Porter (2011), who directed two acclaimed political films this year — John Lewis: Good Trouble and The Way I See It — 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.
Other 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‘ new film series In The Making, which launched earlier this month.
The 2020-2022 Documentary Lab fellows (descriptions courtesy of Firelight Media):
Mija (d. Isabel Castro)
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.
Q (d. Jude Chehab)
For over 50 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.
Grandmaster (d. Christopher Everett)
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 have had on Black communities and culture since the 1960s.
The In Between (d. Robie Flores)
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.
Listen To My Heartbeat (d. Nyjia July)
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.
Aanikoobijigan [ancestor/great-grandparent/great-grandchild] (d. Adam & Zack Khalil)
Locked away in the sterile storage of museums and archives, our ancestors’ 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.
Untitled Scholars Project (d. Eloise King)
A collaborative endeavour based on the research of sociologist and professor Patricia Kingori exploring knowledge production and the value of global education.
When They Were Here (d. Ivan and Ivy MacDonald)
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.
Third Act (d. Tadashi Nakamura)
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?
Seeds (d. Brittany Shyne)
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.
Between Goodbyes (d. Jota Sosnowski)
A hybrid documentary that reframes adoption as a form of family separation through the intimate voices of a queer adoptee and her birth mother.
Joonam (d. Sierra Urich)
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.