On Thursday, May 20 at 5pm ET, Firelight Media and the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) presented a special edition of the Beyond Resilience Series at CAAMFest 2021 – “More Than One Lens.”
Emmett Till. Grace Lee Boggs. Roberto Clemente. Miles Davis. Rashida Tlaib. These names and their stories were brought to public media audiences by Grace Lee, Stanley Nelson, Cameo George, and Bernardo Ruiz, who combined have directed and produced more than 50 documentary films that reflect the breadth, diversity, and visions of BIPOC communities, movements, and masters. This panel discussion brings together acclaimed documentary filmmakers and public media executives for a discussion about the necessity of “more than one lens” – how independent filmmakers like Lee, Nelson, and Ruiz have built their careers within public media; why public media must center BIPOC filmmakers and stories in order to stay relevant; and how BIPOC leadership is shaping the future of public media.
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.
Marcia Smith is president and co-founder of Firelight Media, which produces documentary films, provides artistic and financial support to emerging filmmakers of color, and builds impact campaigns to connect documentaries to audiences and social justice advocates. Under her leadership, Firelight Media was honored with a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
Donald Young is the Center for Asian American Media’s (CAAM) Director of Programs. He oversees CAAM’s program areas, and specifically develops and implements CAAM’s national productions and national PBS strategies. In public television, Donald has supervised the national broadcasts of over 150 award-winning projects. As a producer, he has worked both in documentaries and independent feature films. Key projects include the epic five-hour PBS history series Asian Americans, a co-production with WETA and produced by Renee Tajima-Peña; Family Pictures, USA by Thomas Allen Harris; and a feature film adaptation of Chang-rae Lee’s Coming Home Again directed by Wayne Wang.
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. Nelson’s latest documentary, Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy debuted on Netflix in 2021. His next documentary, Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, with Marco Williams, will premiere on the HISTORY Channel on May 30. In 2000, Mr. Nelson and his wife Marcia Smith co-founded Firelight Media.
Grace Lee recently directed and produced the two-part documentary And She Could Be Next, about women of color transforming American politics, which broadcast on POV in 2020. She was also a producer/director on Asian Americans, a groundbreaking 5-part series that casts a fresh lens on US history through the stories, contributions and challenges of Asian Americans. Previous credits include the PeabodyAward-winning American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, the Emmy-nominated Makers: Women in Politics for PBS; the interactive online documentary K-TOWN ‘92 about the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest, Off the Menu: Asian America (PBS) and The Grace Lee Project (Sundance Channel). She is a co-founder of the Asian American Documentary Network, and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She is based in Los Angeles.
Bernardo Ruiz is a two-time Emmy® nominated documentary filmmaker and member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Ruiz was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. His directorial feature debut, Reportero (POV, 2013), about a group of dogged reporters at a Tijuana weekly who cover organized crime and political corruption, premiered at Full Frame (U.S.), IDFA (Europe) and Ambulante (Mexico). New York Magazine called it “a powerful reminder of how journalism often requires immense amounts of physical and psychological bravery.” His second feature documentary, Kingdom of Shadows, financed by Participant Media (POV, 2016), premiered at SXSW in the U.S. and IDFA in Europe. “Many documentaries have chronicled the drug war in the U.S. and Mexico,” writes Slackerwood of the film, “but few have humanized it as poignantly as Kingdom of Shadows. [It] is more observant than crusading...rooted in first-rate journalism.” The New York Times called it “unforgettable.” Harvest Season, his third documentary feature, moves into entirely different terrain, probing the lives of the temporary laborers, permanent residents, and multigenerational Latinos intimately connected to the production of premium wines in the Napa and Sonoma regions of Northern California—in the midst of one of the most dramatic grape harvests in recent memory. “Told expertly and with some startlingly gorgeous photography,” Criterion Cast writes of the film, “director Bernardo Ruiz gives a first hand account of small wine producers and the struggles they face both economically and politically…a film that’s as beautiful as it is intimate and emotionally moving.” The film was nominated for a James Beard Broadcast Media award. His latest feature, The Infinite Race, looked at the clash of cultures that springs from a little-known race in northern Mexico for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. Ruiz is currently at work on a film about a group of forensic scientists from Latin America.
Cameo George is the Executive Producer of American Experience on PBS. Previously, she was Head of Development for Longform projects at ABC News, responsible for creating a pipeline of docuseries and feature documentary films across Walt Disney Television platforms including ABC News, Hulu, National Geographic and Disney+. Prior to that she launched television operations for digital media start-up OZY Media as Head of Digital Video and TV, by developing and executive producing several broadcast documentary series while also overseeing all daily video production for OZY.com. George spent 12 years at CNN, producing documentaries for CNN Presents and In America, which focused on underserved communities and underreported stories. She was also a founding member of the CNN Original Series and CNN Films team. Earlier in her career she was at NBC News where she produced and wrote for the news magazine Dateline NBC. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Japanese and Political Science from Georgetown University.
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