August 18, 2022

The Personal is Historical | Beyond Resilience Masterclass

We all have access to archives. Letters from our youth, photos, home videos, memorabilia. How can these personal mementos be stitched together to tell stories of our past, and more broadly, of our collective histories?

For this Beyond Resilience Masterclass, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, we’ll collect personal documentary filmmakers and historians to discuss the transformative power of the personal. How can one photo or personal letter challenge the prevailing narrative of a historical moment? How can we, as filmmakers, think of archival materials more dynamically – not as a visual crutch, but as a main character in the story? And, finally, given the generations-long struggle of marginalized groups to tell our stories in spite of subjugation, what’s the power that lies in simply having access to an archive?

Part One:

Part Two:


  • Bing Liu, Academy Award-nominated Filmmaker, Minding The Gap
  • Elleza Kelley, Assistant Professor English and African American Studies at Yale
  • Stanley Nelson, Academy Award-nominated Filmmaker, A Place of Our Own
  • Lori Pourier, President, First Peoples Fund


  • Sian-Pierre Regis, Filmmaker, Duty Free; Firelight Media Documentary Lab Alum

Accessibility Notice: This event will include live closed captions.

Beyond Resilience Masterclasses, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, will focus on deeply-researched historical documentary films by and about BIPOC communities. This Masterclass will be conducted via Zoom Webinar, enabling participants to submit questions throughout the event through an extended Q&A session. Registrants are encouraged to submit questions for the panelists in advance via the RSVP page.

Participant bios:

Elleza Kelley is an Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at Yale University. Kelley writes and teaches on a range of subjects from African American literature, visual art and black geographies, to archives and historical fiction. Her writing can be found in Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, The New Inquiry, Cabinet Magazine, Deem Journal, and elsewhere.

Bing Liu is a China-born, Midwest-raised filmmaker best known for directing MINDING THE GAP, which was nominated for Best Feature Documentary at the 91st Academy Awards and won a Peabody. He was also a segment director on AMERICA TO ME, which premiered on Starz and was hailed as one of the best TV shows of the year. He co-directed ALL THESE SONS with Josh Altman, which won Best Cinematography at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival and the Maysles Award at the Denver International Film Festival. Liu has been supported by Kartemquin’s Diverse Voices in Documentary, a Film Independent Fellowship and Truer Than Fiction Award, the Garrett Scott Development Grant, the United States Artists fellowship, the SFFILM Westridge Fellowship, the Sundance Screenwriter and Director Labs and the Sundance Institute Asian American Fellowship. He is currently developing several scripted and non-fiction projects.

Stanley Nelson is today’s leading documentarian of the African American experience. His films combine compelling narratives with rich historical detail to shine new light on the under-explored American past. Awards received over the course of his career include a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, five Primetime Emmy Awards, and lifetime achievement awards from the Emmys and IDA. In 2013, Nelson received the National Medal in the Humanities from President Obama. In 2019, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool was nominated by the GRAMMYs for Best Music Film and went on to win two Emmy® Awards at the 42nd Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards. Nelson’s latest documentary Attica, for SHOWTIME Documentary Films, was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 94th Academy Awards® and earned him the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary. In 2021, Nelson also directed the feature film Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy for Netflix, which was a 2022 duPont-Columbia Awards Finalist, and Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, with co-director Marco Williams, for the HISTORY Channel, which was nominated for three Primetime Emmy® Awards.

Lori Lea Pourier (Oglala Lakota), an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, has served as the President of First Peoples Fund (FPF) since 1999. FPF honors and supports the Collective Spirit of Native artists and culture bearers through fellowships, grants and community based partnerships, FPF’s deeply rooted Indigenous Arts Ecology model and movement building strategies. FPF’s Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Awards honors Native culture bearers who selflessly give of themselves and bring spirit back to the community. Lori serves on the Board of Directors of the Jerome Foundation and the Library of Congress American Folklife Center Board of Trustees. She served two terms on the board of directors of the Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) and Native Americans in Philanthropy.

Sian-Pierre Regis is the director of the acclaimed documentary Duty Free, a film examining ageism, the care crisis, and economic insecurity in America. He is an alum of Firelight Media's Documentary Lab and a recipient of its Impact Campaign Fund, and was also a Film Independent Documentary Fellow. He is also an award-winning journalist, on-camera personality, and cultural critic with an undying love for both pop-culture and social responsibility. He has been a contributor for CNN, HLN, MTV and CBS, covering stories of youth political activism and pop-culture.

Additional Resources & Program Notes:

  • Learn more about Elleza Kelley and her work via Yale University.
  • Stream Bing Liu's Oscar-nominated documentary Minding the Gap on Hulu (subscription required).
  • Stream Stanley Nelson's A Place of Our Own via the Criterion Channel (subscription required).
  • Learn more about Lori Pourier's work with the First People's Fund via their website.
  • Learn more about Sian-Pierre Regis's work with Duty Free via the film's website.
  • Documenting the Now develops open source tools and community-centered practices that support the ethical collection, use, and preservation of publicly available content shared on web and social media.
  • Many libraries have publicly available digital archives specializing in African American history, such as the Denver Public Library.
  • The Warrior Women Project, founded by Firelight Media Documentary Lab alum Elizabeth Castle, is building a comprehensive, community-based archive of oral history interviews with key organizers and activists of the Red Power Movement of the 1970s into modern Indigenous struggles.
  • Firelight Media Spark Fund grantee Đoan Hoàng's film Oh, Saigon: A War in the Family is another example of a documentary film that makes use of personal archives and different national archives.

About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at:

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