Striking a Match: How the Firelight Lab Amplified the Voices of the Underrepresented

After becoming the foremost chronicler of African-American history on film, Stanley Nelson and the team at Firelight Media continue to build a legacy off of it with the inclusive and innovative Documentary Lab.

It was actually at the turn of the century that he set up his own shop with his wife Marcia A. Smith to produce his own films, but quickly noticed that others were knocking on his door for advice about their own films. Never one to turn away another filmmaker, especially when those of color had so few others to ask for advice, Nelson would informally offer help, but got slightly more serious about it when Byron Hurt, a former production assistant of his, started work on his first feature “Hip-Hop: Beats and Rhymes” and sought help with the proposal to attract funding.

That led Nelson to establish the Firelight Producers Lab in 2009 with Mabel Haddock, the founder of Black Public Media, where emerging African-American filmmakers could receive mentorship from established veterans in the field in all areas of production and distribution. Naturally, Hurt’s second film “Soul Food Junkies” was one of the first recipients and around this same time, Loira Limbal, a filmmaker in search of a steady paycheck after completing her first feature (“Estilo Hip Hop”) was tipped off to an opening for an office manager at Firelight and soon rose to become director of what has now become known as the Firelight Documentary Lab, which has grown into an 18-month fellowship where filmmakers can workshop their projects with professionals who were in exactly the same position they are.