February 23, 2023

Black & Now | Beyond Resilience

Firelight Media hosted a Beyond Resilience event celebrating films and filmmakers that capture the essence of contemporary Black life in America today.

This event gathered together both nonfiction and narrative filmmakers in discussion around these questions, while underscoring the rigor, excellence, and vision required to continue contributing to America’s canon of Black narratives. In a panel moderated by filmmaker Sabaah Folayan (Look At Me: XXXTentacion and Whose Streets?) who is also interim director of Firelight Media’s Documentary Lab, we celebrate filmmaker Elegance Bratton, whose real-life story took a narrative turn in A24's The Inspection, and filmmaker and artist Ja'Tovia Gary, whose most recent film Quiet As It's Kept acts as a "contemporary response" to Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye.

There has long been tension between the narratives about Black people and culture projected on screen and the lived realities of Black folx. In small towns, big cities, and the spaces in between, What does Black life in America today actually look like? Who are the filmmakers telling our stories, and what historical references inform their contemporary work?

Accessibility Notice: This event includes ASL interpretation and live closed captions.


The Beyond Resilience Series is sponsored by Open Society Foundations. Beyond Resilience is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and Field of Vision.


Participant Bios:

Through screenwriting, filmmaking, and public speaking, Sabaah Folayan levels an optimistic yet unflinching gaze on the urgent questions of our time.Sabaah made her directorial debut at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, with the feature length documentary Whose Streets?. Nominated for Peabody, Critic’s Choice, Gotham and NAACP Awards, the film chronicles the experiences of activists living in Ferguson, Missouri when Michael Brown Jr. was killed. Whose Streets? was distributed theatrically by Magnolia Pictures, broadcast for Television by POV and is now streaming on Netflix.In 2021, Sabaah wrote the series finale of HBO’s Betty, a critically acclaimed comedy series about a crew of young female skateboarders in New York City.Her second feature documentary LOOK AT ME: XXXTENTACION premiered at South by Southwest 2022 and will be streaming on Hulu in June. Sabaah was born in Los Angeles, raised in Hawaii and educated in New York City. She graduated from Columbia University as a pre-medical student. The desire to work at a larger scale evolved into a unique storytelling practice that is informed by principles of behavioral science and social justice. Sabaah specializes in blending care, nuance, and depth with entertainment and popular culture.

Ja’Tovia Gary is a filmmaker and multidisciplinary artist working across documentary, avant-garde video art, sculpture, and installation. Gary is deeply concerned with re-memory and employs a rigorous interrogation and reapprehension of the archive in much of her work. The artist seeks to trouble notions of objectivity and neutrality in nonfiction storytelling by asserting a Black feminist subjectivity, and applies what scholar and cultural critic bell hooks terms “an oppositional gaze” as both maker and critical spectator of moving image works. Intimate, often personal, and politically charged, her works aim to unmask power and its influence on how we perceive and formulate reality. Gary’s films and installations serve as reparative gestures for the distorted histories through which Black life is often viewed. Black sociality, familial bonds, the interiority of Black women and femmes, and the global efforts towards liberation often pull focus in Gary’s multivalent works.

The artist has exhibited at the Hammer Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum, MoMA PS1, Centre Pompidou, Locarno Film Festival, New Orleans Film Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Anthology Film Archives, Film at Lincoln Center, and Harvard Film Archives, among other spaces. She has received generous support from the Ford Foundation, Cinereach, Sundance Documentary Institute, and Field of Vision. Gary has received fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Creative Capital, and Field of Vision, and is a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow.

Elegance Bratton is an award-winning and boundary-breaking director, writer, and producer. He began making films as a US Marine after spending a decade homeless. His work captures stories untold with an intention to show the universal power of our shared humanity. Bratton’s films have played in over 200 film festivals worldwide including the New York Film Festival, Toronto, Sundance, Outfest, BFI, Doc NYC, and the BlackStar Film Festival. He was recently named one of VARIETY’s 10 Directors to Watch for 2023. Bratton made his television debut as the creator and executive producer of Viceland’s My House. The series, which chronicled underground competitive ballroom dancing, was nominated for Outstanding Documentary at the 2019 GLAAD Media Awards. In 2021, Bratton’s critically acclaimed feature documentary, Pier Kids, won the Independent Spirit Awards’ Truer Than Fiction Award, which is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition. Pier Kids explores the lives of Black, homeless queer and transgender youth in New York. The Inspection, his semi-autobiographical narrative fiction debut, world premiered as the opening night film of the Toronto International Film Festival Discovery section and was the closing night film of the New York Film Festival. The critically acclaimed A24 film centers around a young homeless gay man who joins the Marine Corps to win back his mother’s love, but learns how to respect himself at bootcamp. The film has garnered numerous award nominations including from the Golden Globes, Gothams, and Film Independent Spirit Awards. Bratton is currently in post-production on the upcoming feature documentary, Hellfighters, which highlights the story of African American Jazz pioneer and music mogul James Reese Europe, who was a lieutenant in the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters. Bratton also co-runs the production company, Freedom Principle, alongside his producing partner, Chester Algernal Gordon. He was a Sundance 2020 Native Lab mentor and a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab mentor. Bratton holds a BS from Columbia University (2014) and MFA from NYU Tisch Graduate Film (2019). He and his partner live in Baltimore.

Program Notes:

  • Sabaah Folayan is a filmmaker and the interim director of Firelight Media's Documentary Lab. Learn more about Sabaah via thier website: sabaah.is.
  • Ja'Tovia Gary's latest work is currently exhibited at Paula Cooper Gallery in NYC. The exhibit, "You Smell Like Outside..." includes the premiere a new film, Quiet As It’s Kept, and a sculpture from Ja'Tovia's ongoing Citational Ethics series. The exhibit is on view through March 11, 2023. Learn more.
  • Read about how Elegance Bratton's upbringing informed his first narrative feature The Inspection via the the Los Angeles Times.
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