Firelight Media Announces 2015 Next Step Media Fund Grantees


With support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Firelight provides funding to eight Firelight Producers’ Lab Participants

Today, Firelight Media announced the 2015 recipients of the Next Step Media Fund grants. The awards will be distributed to fellows in Firelight Media’s Producers’ Lab, a mentorship program that provides one-on-one support, professional development workshops, and networking opportunities for emerging filmmakers of color. This year, eight fellows representing six projects will receive grants from the Next Step Media Fund, up from five projects last year.

“The Next Step Media Fund furthers the work of our Producers’ Lab fellows by providing direct financial support at a critical stage in their development,” says MARCIA SMITH, Co-founder and President of Firelight Media. “This is more than just a mentorship program, as we are nurturing the next generation of filmmakers of color.”

Award-winning filmmaker and Firelight Co-founder STANLEY NELSON started the Lab in recognition that filmmakers of color are often unable to compete for funding, broadcast distribution, film festivals, and theaters. “We’re invested in seeing our Producers Lab participants through the entire process, and that includes securing funding for production, which is where projects can often be cut short,” he said. “Our goal is to one day be able to support the funding needs of all of our fellows.”

The Next Step Media Fund grants are funded through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “The MacArthur Foundation supports documentary films that explore contemporary issues through powerful human stories that challenge stereotypes and misperceptions, and promote understanding and empathy for different points of view,” said KATHY IM, Director of Journalism and Media. “We are thrilled to support Firelight Media and its Next Step Media Fund because this program nurtures a cadre of filmmakers very likely to direct and produce the type of films we’d like to see made.”

Surdna Foundation’s President PHIL HENDERSON said, “In an era of accelerated and often dramatic social and demographic change, artists and culture bearers play critical roles within our communities helping us understand and challenge pressing issues. Their visions, communicated through film, performance, text, spoken word and other forms can help communities achieve a sense of connectedness and common purpose.”

The six projects awarded a Next Step Media Fund grant were chosen from Firelight Media’s current roster of Producers’ Lab fellows. The members of the selection committee are WNET Documentaries and Development Executive Producer Julie Anderson; International Documentary Association Executive Director Simon Kilmurry; film programmer, lecturer and writer Chi-Hui Yang; independent filmmaker Carlos Sandoval; ITVS Content Development & Initiative Manager N’Jeri Eaton; Firelight Co-Founder and Lead Mentor Stanley Nelson and Firelight Vice President and Producers’ Lab Director Loira Limbal.

Below are the selected projects:

Whose Streets by Sabaah Jordan and Damon Davis

The activists and leaders who live and breathe this movement for justice bring you WHOSE STREETS?  – a documentary about the Ferguson uprising. When unarmed teenager Michael Brown is killed by police and then left lying in the street for hours, it marks a breaking point for the residents of St. Louis county. Grief, long-standing tension, and renewed anger bring residents together to hold vigil and protest this latest tragedy. In the days that follow, artists, musicians, teachers and parents turn into freedom fighters, standing on the front lines to demand justice. As the National Guard descends on Ferguson with military grade weaponry, these young community members become the torchbearers of a new wave of resistance. For this generation, the battle is not for civil rights, but for the right to live.

Warrior Women by Christina King and Elizabeth Castle

Told from the perspective of American Indian Movement activist Madonna Thunder Hawk, “Warrior Women” reveals the untold history of the families who fought for civil rights in the turbulent Red Power movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Farewell Ferris Wheel by Miguel Martinez

Farewell Ferris Wheel explores how the U.S. Carnival industry fights to keep itself alive by bringing in Mexican workers with a controversial work visa.

Memories of Penitent Heart by Cecilia Aldarondo

Twenty-five years after Miguel died of AIDS, his niece tracks down his gay lover and cracks open a Pandora’s box of unresolved family drama. A story about the mistakes of the past and the second chances of the present, MEMORIES OF A PENITENT HEART is a cautionary tale about the unresolved conflicts wrought by AIDS, and a nuanced exploration of how faith is used and abused in times of crisis.

Working Title by Habiba Nosheen

​9/11 left a deep wound within the American psyche. It was a reminder that the American way of life was under-attack. The U.S. vowed to bring these enemies to justice. In this character-driven verite feature documentary the filmmakers take the audience inside the U.S. justice system through unprecedented accesses. Due to the sensitive nature of the documentary, limited information can be disclosed.

Thank You For Playing by Malika Zouhali-Worrall

Ryan’s young son Joel has terminal cancer. Ryan, a video game developer, is building an unusual video game about his experiences raising a dying child, and to honor Joel while he’s alive. THANK YOU FOR PLAYING follows the creation of Ryan’s game, as his son’s health continues to decline.

About Firelight Media:

Firelight Media is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing talented documentary filmmakers who tell stories about people, places, cultures and issues that are underrepresented in the mainstream media. Firelight Media was founded in 1998 as an independent non-profit production company and has been best known for producing high-quality powerful productions for PBS and its dynamic educational outreach campaigns. However, in 2008, Firelight Media expanded its work to include developing and supporting the next generation of filmmakers.

About the Producers’ Lab:

Firelight Media’s flagship program is the Producers’ Lab, a mentorship program for talented independent filmmakers of color. Lab fellows work with award-winning filmmaker, Stanley Nelson and a team of senior Producers’, writers, editors, new media, and fundraising specialists to complete their projects for a national broadcast. Firelight Media started the Producers’ Lab as a way to provide creative and professional support for diverse Producers’.

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