Firelight Media hosted a Beyond Resilience event via YouTube Live on Thursday, September 21, from 4-5 pm ET, featuring a conversation about creating work, profiting from that work, and establishing a sustainable non-fiction film career in an ever-changing industry.
Moderator Charlotte Cook (Field of Vision) was joined by Tommy Oliver (Confluential Films) and filmmaker and producer Jameka Autry (Through The Night) to give a scan of the market. Also joining the conversation was filmmaker Deborah S. Esquenazi (Southwest of Salem), who discussed ways to extend one’s career beyond documentary. The contributions and experiences of these panelists helped to thread the needle of why Hollywood’s creative class and distributors are at an impasse and provide insights to support those seeking a more sustainable career in non-fiction film.
As evidenced by the ongoing strikes by the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, another reckoning is afoot within the film and television industry. Filmmakers, writers, producers, and actors – all who seek a sustainable career in the field – are at odds with studios and distributors who are paying them less and requiring more (rights, time, exclusivity, etc.). While the landscape is different for documentary filmmakers, many of whom are not represented by a union and therefore do not have the option to strike, the underlying issues are the same. As a result, BIPOC creatives, who have historically had less access to resources, mentors, and visibility in this space, are at the greatest risk of being forced out of a field they love. This impending future has a cascading effect: fewer BIPOC creatives means fewer authentic narratives accurately reflecting our community and, thus, fewer ways for our audiences to see their lived realities on screen. If our storytellers cannot thrive in this industry, the pipeline for future BIPOC storytellers is also at risk.
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, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Field of Vision.
Charlotte Cook is the Co-Founder and Executive Producer of Field of Vision, a film organisation that supports and commissions filmmakers and artists to make short form, episodic and feature-length nonfiction films that use innovative and artistic ways to explore contemporary global issues through a cinematic lens, and to push the boundaries of nonfiction storytelling. Prior to Field of Vision, she was the Director of Programming at Hot Docs. In addition to her work at Field of Vision, Charlotte is currently a programmer at CPH:DOX and recently produced Do Not Split, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.
Jameka Autry (she/her) is an award-winning filmmaker and investigative storyteller. Her work is dedicated to centering documentary storytelling around themes of underrepresentation and invisibility throughout non-fiction features, shorts, and series.Jameka is a 2022 Sundance Catalyst Fellow, 2020 Women at Sundance | Adobe Fellow, and 2019 Sundance Creative Producing Fellow. She was a recipient of the 2017 Impact Partners Documentary Producers Fellowship and selected for the inaugural DOC NYC ‘40 Under 40’ list. In 2019 she was awarded the Sundance/A&E Brave Storyteller Award, and received a post graduate fellowship at the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. In 2022 she was selected for the prestigious Ford Foundation JustFilms/Rockwood Fellowship.Jameka is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and attended Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. She is a mentor at DocNYC, a member of SFFILM’s Creative Advisory Board, and previously served on the board of Investigative Studios.
Tommy Oliver is the Founder & CEO of Confluential Films, a production company and financier devoted to championing authentic and culturally specific stories, Founder & Chairman of Black Love, Inc., a fast-growing media company that celebrates 360 degrees of Black Love 365 days a year, and an award-winning multi-hyphenate filmmaker.Most recently, Oliver produced The Perfect Find (Netflix), starring Gabrielle Union, Keith Powers, and Gina Torres, as well as four Sundance '23 Films: Young. Wild. Free., starring Algee Smith, Sanaa Lathan, and Mike Epps, Fancy Dance, starring Lily Gladstone and Shea Whigham, the Documentary Grand Jury Prize winner, Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, and To Live and Die and Live (EP), starring Amon Joseph, Omari Hardwicke, and Cory Hardrict.Oliver’s past projects include AFI Fest Audience Award winner Juice WRLD: Into the Abyss and the critically acclaimed HBO documentary 40 Years A Prisoner, both of which he directed, produced, shot, and edited, as well as the Sony thriller The Perfect Guy, which he produced and opened No. 1 in the U.S., the groundbreaking docuseries, Black Love, which he created and executive produced along with his wife, Codie Elaine Oliver; the Sundance and AFI Fest Audience Award winner Kinyarwanda, which he produced and Roger Ebert ranked as the No. 6 film in his top 10 of 2011; and Lionsgate’s critically acclaimed indie film 1982, which he wrote, directed, produced and edited.In addition to his film, TV, and documentary work, Oliver is also a noted photographer whose photography is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC), where more than 50 of his photos are also part of the permanent collection.Oliver is a member of AMPAS, the PGA, the WGA, the DGA, the Television Academy, a Sundance Producing mentor, a PGA producing mentor, a Doc NYC mentor, an Academy Gold mentor, a recipient of the prestigious Carnegie Mellon Alumni Achievement Award, a member of Carnegie Mellon CFA Dean’s Council, a board member of The Philadelphia Film Society, and was recently named by Goldman Sachs as one of the 100 most intriguing entrepreneurs.
Deborah S. Esquenazi is a two-time Emmy nominated, Peabody-winning film director, screenwriter, and investigative journalist.She is directing a film about one of the longest awaiting exoneration defendants in Texas, James Harry Reyos, a gay Jicarilla Apache man framed for the horrendous slaying of a Catholic priest in West Texas, 1981.Esquenazi's first feature, the critically acclaimed documentary Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four, won the Critic’s Choice Award for 'Best First Feature', garnered her first Emmy nomination for 'Outstanding Social Issues Documentary', a Peabody Award, and won a GLAAD Media Award for 'Outstanding Documentary', among other distinctions. The film helped exonerate the ‘San Antonio Four’ and is mentioned in the opening passages of the Writs of Habeas Corpus in Ex Parte Anna Vasquez, Cassandra Rivera, Elizabeth Ramirez, and Kristie Mayhugh.Her documentary short, El Vacio, produced by Concordia Studios/New York Times, was nominated for an Emmy as part of the series From Here to Home. She was a 2020 Sundance Momentum Fellow for her thriller, A Killing on Park, a fictional work inspired by one of her early criminal investigations. A Killing on Park was also chosen as Cannes’ Inaugural List of Best Screenplays by Women.Esquenazi served as a Field Director on PBS' recent acclaimed documentary special, And She Could Be Next, produced by Marj Safinia, Grace Lee, and Executive Produced by Ava DuVernay.She is the former Senior Producer of STORIES FROM DEEP IN THE HEART, a teen radio program that partners Texas Folklife with KUT-NPR (Austin). During her tenure she produced over 80+ stories, many of which made the “Best of” list of PRX.She has also been a Sundance Screenwriting Fellow, a 2022 Women @ Sundance fellow, a Sundance Documentary Film Fellow, a Sundance Creative Producing Fellow, and a Firelight Film Fellow.She lives in Austin, Tx, with her wife and two sons.
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