July 26, 2021

Meet The 2018-2020 Firelight Media Documentary Lab Fellows

NEW YORK – Dec. 6, 2018 – Firelight Media announced today their newest cohort of Fellows selected to the Firelight Documentary Lab, the organization’s flagship mentoring program. The group of twelve filmmakers are culturally diverse, with impressive backgrounds ranging from public and commercial media to investigative journalism and digital production. The projects they bring to the fellowship tell stories of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico, domestic violence, federalization of the war on drugs, Indigenous identity, KKK hostilities against Vietnamese refugees, and the mothers left in the wake of police brutality.

“We are honored to support the work of this new Doc Lab cohort because we believe they collectively embody the future of nonfiction — which is inclusive, centers those who have traditionally been on the margins, and pushes the boundaries of the documentary form,” says Vice President and Documentary Lab Director, Loira Limbal.

Over the last decade, the Lab has served seventy-three filmmakers, including 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 have premiered at major festivals including the Sundance Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival.

Firelight co-founders Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith launched the Documentary Lab in 2009 as an 18-month 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. In addition, Firelight has provided over $650,000 in grants to 40 documentary projects through their Next Step Fund since 2003.

The 2018-2020 Documentary Lab fellows are:

  • Sandra Salas - Into the Storm is the heart-wrenching, inspiring journey of Sandra’s life as she confronts the complexities of the domestic violence that shattered her family as she contemplates starting a family of her own.
  • Sian-Pierre Regis - Duty Free follows director Sian-Pierre’s mother on a bucket list journey to reclaim her life story after she is fired at 75.
  • Raúl O. Paz Pastrana - Border South is told against the backdrop of the North American migrant trail, weaving together migrant stories of resilience and survival from different vantage points. The film exposes a global migration system that renders human beings invisible in life as well as death.
  • Tim Tsai - Seadrift details how a dispute over fishing territory erupted into violence and ignited a maelstrom of boat burnings, KKK intimidation, and other hostilities against Vietnamese refugee communities along the Gulf Coast.
  • Edwin Martinez  - Cosricans is a hybrid-documentary feature that explores how a close-knit group of friends recover and reclaim their lives through the art of cosplay during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
  • Débora Souza Silva - Black Mothers follows the journey of two women devastated by the agonizing cycle of police brutality and our country's injustice system. As one mother navigates the turbulent aftermath of her son’s attack, the other channels her grief into organizing mothers to fight for—and win—concrete change and justice.
  • Laurie Harue Sumiye - A PARADISE LOST is the incredible true story of a bird who sued to prevent its extinction in 1979. Today its survival still hangs in the balance; a Native Hawaiian man strives to save Palila and heal his community after years of conflict between hunters and conservationists.
  • Hazel Gurland-Pooler - Storming Caesars Palace explores how a group of ordinary mothers launched an extraordinary grassroots movement that fought for economic justice, women’s rights, and black women’s empowerment.
  • Li Lu - A Town Called Victoria chronicles the hours after the first travel ban takes effect, when a mosque in a small Texas town erupts in flames. As details of the arson emerge and a suspect goes to trial, this quiet community must reckon with the deep rifts that drove a man to hate.
  • Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso - Across three continents, indigenous women fight to save their communities and the planet. Powerlands connects Ivey Camille’s personal history with a global struggle, demonstrating the scale of the problem indigenous communities face from resource extraction.
  • Kevin Shaw - A Place to Learn follows a community as they fight to save a successful black elementary school threatened to be replaced by a new high school that favors the community’s wealthier residents.
  • Nailah Jefferson - COMMUTED tells the story of Danielle Metz, a 52-year-old woman trying to find her footing after spending nearly half of her life in prison.


About the Documentary Lab

The Documentary Lab is a mentorship program that seeks out and develops emerging diverse filmmakers. The Lab provides filmmakers with one-on-one support, funding, professional development workshops and networking opportunities. More than just a workshop, the Documentary Lab is unrivaled in its representation of diverse filmmakers, creating an exclusive network of talented unique storytellers that receive ongoing support from a project’s conception to its completion.

About Firelight Media

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 our 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.

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