EXCLUSIVE: Firelight Media has today named its latest cohort of Fellows for its flagship mentoring program, the Firelight Documentary Lab, which is now in its thirteenth year.
The participants and projects set for the 18-month program, taking place from 2022-2024, are Neelu Bhuman (Chiragu (Wing)), D.A. Bullock (Mister Backlash), Silvia Castaños & Estefania Contreras (Hummingbirds), Naveen Chaubal (Pinball), Paulina Davis (The Co-op: The Kids of Dorie Miller), Athena Jones (Sisters’ Keepers), Logan Rozos (What Will I Become?), Juliana Schatz Preston (Providencia), Jiayan “Jenny” Shi (Untitled Scientist Project), Tsanavi Spoonhunter (Holder of the Sky), Lendl Tellington (…that’s why He made momma), Reveca Torres (Untitled (Art and Disability Culture)) and Raven Two Feathers (Indigenous Genders).
This year’s set of Documentary Lab projects 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.
Firelight Media co-founders Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith launched the Lab in 2009 as a means of supporting filmmakers of color working on their first or second feature-length documentary film. The company awards each project accepted with a $25,000 grant, also providing filmmakers with customized mentorship from prominent leaders in the documentary world, professional development retreats, and networking opportunities.
“We are excited to welcome this talented new cohort of filmmakers to our Documentary Lab,” said Firelight Media’s Senior Vice President, Leticia Peguero. “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.”
Firelight Media has thus far supported over 120 filmmakers of color through its Documentary Lab as part of its mission to make the nonfiction film industry – and public media in particular – more inclusive. Recent alumni of the program include Oscar-nominated Ascension filmmaker Jessica Kingdon; 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.
More information about the latest cohort’s projects can be found below.
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.
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