Contessa Gayles

Contessa is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist, and an Emmy-nominated producer. She tells stories about identity, socio-political movement, healing, liberation and radical imagination, with a focus on race and gender.

From 2014 - 2018, she was a producer at CNN, where she created, produced, directed, shot and edited award-winning original series and documentaries, including the feature documentary, The Feminist on Cellblock Y; shorts, Women Who March, Women Who March: The Movement, and series, This Is Birth with Lisa Ling and the 2016 News & Documentary Emmy-nominated Feeding America's Most Vulnerable Children. She has additionally contributed to VICE, PBS NewsHour, PBS Frontline, CBS, Time, Al Jazeera, Vox, WIRED, AFROPUNK and documentary features, including SHOWTIME’s Surge, Netflix’s Convergence, and forthcoming films, including Black Mothers.

Contessa holds a B.A. from Columbia University and an M.A. in Journalism from New York University, with a concentration in Documentary Film. As an independent filmmaker, her work has been supported by Impact Partners, Field of Vision, Film Independent, SFFILM, Artemis Rising Foundation, Skoll Foundation, California Arts Council and others. She was a 2020 SFFILM filmmaker in residence and is a 2021 Bay Area Video Coalition MediaMaker fellow, and an inaugural Film Independent/Netflix Amplifier fellow.


An incarcerated musician struggles for healing and peace as he comes of age in this documentary-musical odyssey composed behind bars.


Life + Life


Documentary Lab








Documentary Lab

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Join us Friday, January 28 at 4pm ET for a special edition of our Beyond Resilience series at Sundance Film Festival: "Collaborating with Documentary Protagonists." RSVP to attend.

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