November 1, 2021

CPB, PBS Award Firelight Media $5.5 Million to Diversify Public Media Content

Acclaimed documentary producer Firelight Media has received $5.5 million in funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and PBS to support its Firelight Documentary Lab and two other programs aimed at increasing the diversity of public media content in partnership with local stations and PBS national series.

Over a three-year period, the funding will more than double the number of filmmakers served by the programs, with an emphasis on underrepresented populations such as Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, and underserved regions including the South, Midwest and U.S. Territories.

“This funding from CPB and PBS will help us expand and integrate our programs serving underrepresented documentary filmmakers and support their integration in the public media system, connecting filmmakers with stations and mentoring them at every level,” said Marcia Smith, President, Firelight Media. “We are grateful for the support from CPB and PBS to expand and diversify this pipeline of documentary filmmakers for public media.”

Firelight Media, co-founded by Peabody and Emmy-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson, has long supported documentary filmmaking by and about communities of color. Firelight Media launched the Documentary Lab in 2009 as a mentorship program for diverse filmmakers and has since expanded its programs and funds that support filmmakers from underrepresented communities.

“Firelight Media plays a vital role in identifying, nurturing and supporting talented producers and helping them tell their stories through public media,” said Pat Harrison, President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “CPB is proud to support Firelight Media, its Documentary Lab and the content it produces, which adds to the diversity of public media, and helps producers of color launch and sustain their careers.”

“As a media service that represents every person in every community in the United States, it is PBS’s mission to reflect a wide array of voices in our programming. We are proud to partner with CPB in support of Firelight Media and will continue to amplify stories by underrepresented filmmakers across our platforms,” said Sylvia Bugg, PBS Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming.

Supported by CPB since 2014, the Documentary Lab has become the epicenter of Firelight Media’s network of programs and events supporting diverse documentary filmmakers, including the Groundwork Regional Lab, which launched in 2017 with CPB funding to support early career documentary filmmakers living and working in underrepresented regions of the U.S., and the FRONTLINE/Firelight Fellowship for investigative documentary filmmakers, which began in 2018 and is also supported by CPB. Firelight Media-supported filmmakers have produced short films on emerging artists of color for “In the Making,” a partnership between Firelight Media and PBS American Masters; and “Hindsight,” a series of short films made in 2020 by BIPOC filmmakers living in the American South and Puerto Rico, which marked a first-time partnership among Firelight, the Center for Asian American Media, Reel South, WORLD Channel and public television stations.

The $4 million from CPB represents an increase of 33% in funding. Together with $1.5 million in new funding from PBS, the grant will allow for expansion and integration of Firelight Media’s three key artists support programs:

  • The Firelight Documentary Lab, Firelight Media’s flagship 18-month mentoring program, which supports filmmakers from a project’s conception through its completion, will expand the number of filmmakers in each cohort.
  • Groundwork Regional Labs will serve 40 early career filmmakers in partnership with local stations.
  • Digital short films will be commissioned from Documentary Lab and Groundwork fellows or alumni and other regional BIPOC filmmakers for the PBS system.

As part of this expansion, Firelight Media will promote Chloë Walters-Wallace to Director of Regional Initiatives. In this role, she will continue to lead the Groundwork Regional Lab and will also lead the regional short films initiative. Walters-Wallace joined Firelight Media in 2017 as manager of the Documentary Lab, and most recently served as the lead for Firelight Media on the “Hindsight” series.  

Read more via PBS.

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