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Firelight Media unveils 2021 Documentary Lab fellows

Firelight Media has announced the latest cohort of fellows chosen for the Firelight Documentary Lab, the non-profit organization’s mentoring program. Starting with the 2021-23 group, Firelight Media will offer a $25,000 ...
December 3, 2021

Firelight Media has announced the latest cohort of fellows chosen for the Firelight Documentary Lab, the non-profit organization’s mentoring program.

Starting with the 2021-23 group, Firelight Media will offer a $25,000 grant for each project accepted into the Documentary Lab — a $10,000 increase from previous years — to provide financial support.

The productions in the new class cover subjects ranging from a young poet from El Salvador, a community of refugee musicians from Vietnam, and a group of activists in Detroit fighting for climate justice. The 2021-23 Lab also includes several projects focused on formerly incarcerated people and their families.

Firelight co-founders Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith launched the Documentary Lab in 2009 as a fellowship program for filmmakers of color working on their first or second feature documentary. The program has gone on to support more than 100 filmmakers of color as part of its mission to make the nonfiction film industry, particularly public media, more inclusive.

Recent fellows Jessica Kingdon (Ascension), C.J. Hunt (The Neutral Ground), and Sian-Pierre Regis (Duty Free) were nominated for IDA Awards for their debut films, all of which were produced through the Documentary Lab.

“Despite the many challenges faced by emerging nonfiction filmmakers of color – particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – we are heartened to see that so many filmmakers remain committed to telling their own stories on their own terms. We are especially proud to be able to increase project grants to $25,000 this year, which will have a transformative impact on each of these productions,” said Smith, president of Firelight Media, in a release.

The 2021-2023 Documentary Lab fellows (descriptions courtesy of Firelight Media):

New Wave (d. Elizabeth Ai)
A coming-of-age story that celebrates the trailblazers who rebuilt their community and forged a music industry more influential than the one they left behind in the wake of the Vietnam War.

For Venida, For Kalief (d. Sisa Bueno)
A late mother’s poetry echoes a movement for criminal justice reform for her son.

Sacrifice Zones: The 48217 (d. Ben Corona)
A photographer and other residents living in southwest Detroit challenge a corporation to be more environmentally responsible and purchase their homes.

Nació Simón (d. Pati Cruz Martínez)
Nació Simón (pictured) follows Lis, a single mother of two during the day and drag king Simón at night.

The Past is Waiting Up Ahead (d. Gerardo del Valle)
Poet Javier Zamora revisits the route he traveled as an unaccompanied minor twenty years ago.

Cutting Through Rocks (d. Mohammadreza Enyi and Sara Khaki)
Film description to come.

Life + Life (d. Contessa Gayles)
An incarcerated musician struggles for healing and peace as he comes of age in this documentary-musical odyssey composed behind bars.

unseen (d. Set Hernandez Rongkilyo)
A multi-platform documentary that follows the story of Pedro, an aspiring social worker who happens to be a blind, undocumented immigrant.

Untitled Prison Hunger Strike Film (d. JoeBill Muñoz)
A group of men look to build new lives after surviving decades of solitary confinement in California prisons.

Untitled Underground Railroad Project (d. Fiz Olajide)
Five Black and Latino cyclists traverse a route that helped enslaved people escape to freedom.

Untitled (d. Ashley Tynerand William Tyner)
A film following the lives of three Black women leading the movement for Black liberation in the Twin Cities.

Made in Ethiopia (d. Xinyan Yu)
Film description to come.

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