Firelight Media Documentary Lab Names Its 2020 Fellows From Underrepresented Communities

Erik Pedersen
·4-min read

Firelight Media today revealed the 14 Fellows selected for the 2020-22 Firelight Documentary Lab. The 18-month program supporting Black, indigenous and other filmmakers of color is now in its 11th year.

The projects the new class bring to the Fellowship range from stories of generational Black farmers in the American South and the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Montana to personal stories revolving around family, immigration, ancestry, identity and more.

“It has been an extraordinarily challenging year for documentary filmmakers, especially emerging filmmakers of color, which Firelight’s Documentary Lab is designed to support,” said Loira Limbal, SVP Programs at Firelight Media. “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. Firelight is proud to provide this support at such a crucial time in the careers of these filmmakers and at this moment in our nation’s history.”

Firelight 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 workshops, and networking opportunities. Firelight also awards a $15,000 grant for each project accepted into the Documentary Lab.

Firelight Media Documentary Lab Has Its 2019 Fellows From Underrepresented Communities

Here are the 2020-22 Documentary Lab fellows and their films with synopses:

Isabel Castro
Mija
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.

Jude Chehab
Q
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.

Christopher Everett
Grandmaster
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 has had on Black communities and culture since the 1960s.

Robie Flores
The In Between
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.

Nyjia July
Listen to My Heartbeat
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.

Adam & Zack Khalil
Aanikoobijigan [ancestor/great-grandparent/great-grandchild]
Locked away in the sterile storage of museums and archives, our ancestor’s 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.

Eloise King
Untitled Scholars Project
A collaborative endeavour based on the research of sociologist and professor Patricia Kingori exploring knowledge production and the value of global education.

Ivan & Ivy MacDonald
When They Were Here
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.

Tadashi Nakamura
Third Act
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?

Brittany Shyne
Seeds
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.

Jota Sosnowski
Between Goodbyes
A hybrid documentary that reframes adoption as a form of family separation through the intimate voices of a queer adoptee and her birth mother.

Sierra Urich
Joonam
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.

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