Filmmaker’s Incubator –Firelight Documentary Lab – Sends Two Films to Sundance: “Always in Season” and “Words from a Bear”


New York, NY – November 30, 2018 – Stanley Nelson’s much anticipated film on the life of jazz trumpeter and composer Miles Davis will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, his company Firelight Films announced today. Produced with Eagle Rock Entertainment and American Masters Pictures, MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL is a definitive account of the man behind the legend.

In addition, two fellows of Nelson’s Documentary Lab, an incubator that supports and mentors filmmakers of color, will be in competition at Sundance: ALWAYS IN SEASON, directed and produced by Jacqueline Olive, which explores the history and legacy of African American lynchings, and WORDS FROM A BEAR, director and producer Jeffrey Palmer’s examination of the Native American writer N. Scott Momaday. 

“MILES DAVIS will be Stanley’s tenth film at Sundance and we are of course thrilled,” said Marcia Smith, president of Firelight Media.  “This year though we are equally proud of Jacqueline and Jeffrey and the stories they are sharing.  The Firelight Documentary Lab has worked with more than 70 filmmakers since we launched the program in 2008 to help emerging filmmakers of color develop their artistic voices.  We strongly believe that filmmakers from diverse backgrounds bring a unique, and much-needed, perspective to the pressing issues of our time. By supporting their voices we ensure the next generation of American documentarians will represent the diversity of the world we live in.”

MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL is expected to have a theatrical release in 2019 and a subsequent exclusive U.S. broadcast premiere on “American Masters” on PBS, thanks to the support of David and Lisa Grain, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

With full access to the Miles Davis Estate, the film features never-before-seen footage, including studio outtakes from his recording sessions, rare photos and new interviews. Quincy Jones, Carlos Santana, Clive Davis, Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter are just a few of the luminaries weighing in on Davis’ life and career.

“Miles Davis was the personification of cool,” Stanley Nelson said.  “He was an extraordinary artist celebrated for his restless artistic aesthetic and his ceaseless innovation.  He changed the course of music five or six times.  By unpacking his upbringing, his methodology, his relationships, and his demons, we begin to understand the man who redefined the original American musical genre, jazz, and continues to influence generations of rock, funk, and hip-hop artists.”

Firelight co-founders Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith launched the Documentary Lab in 2008 as a fellowship program to support filmmakers working on their first or second feature-length documentary film. The Lab provides filmmakers with customized mentorship from prominent leaders in the documentary world, funding, professional development workshops and networking opportunities. The Lab has served seventy-three filmmakers, including the award-winning Sabaah Jordan and Damon Davis (Whose Streets), Assia Boundaoui (The Feeling of Being Watched), Dawn Porter (Trapped), Jason Da Silva (When I Walk), and Lyric Cabral (T)ERROR).  Lab fellows have won every major industry award including Peabody, Emmys, Ridenhour, IDA awards, and premieres at major festivals including the Sundance Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival since the program’s founding ten years ago. 

In addition to the films by Jacqueline Olive and Jeffrey Palmer, there are currently 19 films in various stages of production as part of the Lab, including Isabel Alcantara’s The Age of Water and April Dobbins’ Alabamaland.

“As a documentarian that focuses primarily on American history I know how important it is to hear from diverse filmmakers who train their lens on our country’s past,” Stanley Nelson said. “When diverse filmmakers shed light on underreported people and events in our nation’s history, their stories help us understand many of the issues we face today. We couldn’t be prouder of Jacqueline and Jeffrey for their artistry and important contributions to our national canon.”

ALWAYS IN SEASON is a feature-length film that explores the impact of more than a century of lynching of African Americans and connects this form of historic racial terrorism to racial violence today. When 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina in 2014, his mother’s search for justice and reconciliation begins while the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present.

WORDS FROM A BEAR examines the enigmatic life and mind of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer N. Scott Momaday, one of Native America’s most celebrated authors of poetry and prose. Cinematically this story takes audiences on a spiritual journey through the expansive landscapes of the West, when Momaday’s Kiowa ancestors roamed the Great Plains with herds of buffalo, to the sand-painted valleys of Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico where his imagination ripened and he showed superior writing skills as a young mission student. The film will have its exclusive U.S. broadcast premiere on “American Masters” on PBS. WORDS FROM A BEAR is produced by Jeffrey Palmer for Rainy Mountain Media LLC, and executive produced by Sally Jo Fifer for ITVS, Shirley K. Sneve for Vision Maker Media, and Michael Kantor for American Masters Pictures. 


About Firelight 

Firelight Media was born in 2000 to address the deficit of films made by and about diverse communities, particularly people of color. Founded and led by MacArthur “genius” Fellow Stanley Nelson and award-winning writer and philanthropy executive Marcia Smith in Harlem, NY, the organization has gone on to produce over 25 hours of primetime programming for public television, receive every major broadcast award, and have its first theatrical release (The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution).

Through its Documentary Lab and Impact Producer Fellowship, Firelight is dedicated to developing talented documentary filmmakers that advance underrepresented stories, moving them from the margins to the forefront of mainstream media through high quality, powerful productions.

Angela McCrae