Stanley NelsonStanley Nelson, an Emmy-winning MacArthur “genius” Fellow, is co-founder of Firelight Media, which provides technical education and professional support to emerging documentarians; and co-founder of the for-profit documentary production company, Firelight Films.
His latest films include Freedom Riders, which aired on PBS' American Experience in May 2011 and Wounded Knee, which is part of the landmark series on Native Americans We Shall Remain, which aired on PBS in May 2009. Both films premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 and 2009 respectively.
Nelson’s oeuvre spans the range of documentary forms. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Templepreviewed in April 2006 at the Tribeca and San Francisco Film Festivals to sold-out audiences and won awards at both festivals. Jonestown was subsequently shortlisted for the Academy Awards and won the International Documentary Association Award for its use of archival footage.
The 2005 film, Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice documented one of our country’s most vibrant and progressive music ensembles and premiered on American Masters, the multi-award winning PBS series.
Nelson’s 2004 A Place of Our Own, a semi-autobiographical look at the African American middle class, was shown at the Sundance Film Festival documentary competition and in national broadcast on PBS’ acclaimed series Independent Lens.
His 2003 film, The Murder of Emmett Till, was broadcast nationally on PBS’ American Experience to rave reviews, and Nelson went on to win the Primetime Emmy for Best Directing, nonfiction; the Special Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival; a coveted award from the International Documentary Association; and the highest honor in broadcast journalism, the George Foster Peabody award, among many others. His 2001 film, Running: the Campaign for City Council, highlighted the impact of campaign finance reform on local elections in New York City and was honored with the Henry Hampton award from the Council on Foundations and a CINE Golden Eagle.
With five films in competition at Sundance in ten years and multiple industry awards to his credit, Nelson is acknowledged as one of the premier documentary filmmakers working today. In 2004, he received the CINE Leadership Award for his body of work, and his films have individually won nearly every award in film and broadcasting. His 2002 film Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind was named best production of the year by the Black Filmmakers’ Hall of Fame and the Black International Cinema Festival in Berlin; his 1999 film, The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords, won a DuPont-Columbia Silver Baton and the Sundance Film Festival’s Freedom of Expression award, was named Best Documentary at the San Francisco Film Festival, and won an Emmy nomination. Two Dollars and a Dream: The Story of Madame C. J. Walker and A'lelia Walker was named Best Film of the Decade by the Black Filmmaker Foundation.
Nelson’s work has also received broad recognition outside the film and television community. In 2004, he received the Educational Video Center’s Excellence in Community Service award and was honored by New York Lawyers in the Public Interest. His film Beyond Brown: Pursuing the Promise has served as a centerpiece for reflection on the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education by such organizations as the NAACP, the National Baptist Convention, and the Children’s Defense Fund since airing nationally on PBS in May 2004.
Nelson cites as one of his greatest achievements the impact of his film The Murder of Emmett Till in the reopening of the investigation of the 1955 murder of a 14-year-old Black boy for whistling at a white woman. In its announcement of this historic move, the U.S. Justice Department cited the presence of witnesses unearthed in the film as the major factor in their decision. The massive card and letter-writing campaign engineered by Nelson’s production company undoubtedly made a difference as well.
In recent years, Nelson has also served as Executive Producer on a number of award winning films including, HIP HOP: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Faubourg Treme – The Untold Story of Black New Orleans, and Faces of Change.
Nelson’s other award-winning, independently produced films include Methadone: Curse or Cure; Free Within Ourselves, a profile of four contemporary African American artists; and Puerto Rico: Our Right to Decide. His credits as a television producer include What Can We Do About Violence?, a Bill Moyers program; Listening To America with Bill Moyers; and Michael Moore’s TV Nation. Nelson was a Senior Consultant to the award-winning HBO program, On the Record with Bob Costas.
Nelson holds a B.F.A. in film from the City College of New York. He was a fellow at the American Film Institute and a Revson Fellow at Columbia University, served on the Fulbright media fellowship committee, and was a Regents’ Lecturer at the University of California. He has taught film at Howard University and the Graduate School of Journalism’s Documentary Program at University of California Berkeley. He served as the Belle Zeller Visiting Professor in Public Policy at Brooklyn College and has trained broadcast journalists in Rwanda. Nelson is a frequent speaker on new media and the “digital future” for filmmakers of color.
He is a regular lecturer at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s National Producers Academy.
Nelson served as a juror for the documentary competitions of the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival, the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, the 2002 Independent Feature Project, and the National Endowment for the Humanities media panel.