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Firelight Media

New York, New York


2023 (5 years)

Firelight Media is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building the careers of documentary filmmakers of color and advancing equity in the documentary film field. Through several programs built on cohort learning models, Firelight supports emerging and mid-career documentary filmmakers of color throughout the United States, U.S.-controlled territories, as well as Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. It also forms partnerships with public media programs and organizations to provide opportunities and resources to its vast and growing alumni network of documentary filmmakers of color. This grant supports general operations, and the intended outcome is a stronger network of multifaceted support for documentary filmmakers of color at every career stage, helping them to produce nonfiction multimedia narratives that deepen the public’s understanding of critical issues.

2021 (2 years)

Firelight Media (Firelight) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to producing documentary films, supporting filmmakers of color, and cultivating audiences for their work. Firelight Media’s programs include fellowships and grants for both early and mid-career Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) filmmakers; regional labs in underserved parts of the United States supporting local filmmakers; and an expanding set of opportunities for its growing network of BIPOC filmmakers to create short documentaries in partnership with broadcasters, distributors, and public media programs. Firelight Media is also a frequent host of conversations in the documentary film field that explore critical issues related to equity, filmmaker sustainability, and opportunity. The outcomes of Firelight Media’s work significantly strengthen the set of opportunities available to BIPOC filmmakers to create thought-provoking works of multimedia nonfiction that challenge false and harmful stereotypical narratives. This award supports general operations.

2020 ( 7 months)

Firelight Media (Firelight) is a nonprofit organization founded and led by people of color that provides multifaceted support to documentary filmmakers of color at the national and regional level, through a series of labs, grants, and partnerships with other organizations. During 2020, as the documentary film industry’s activities have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and profound, longstanding questions of authorship and agency are becoming more prominent amid the summer’s racial justice uprisings, Firelight Media has taken on a central role for the field. Building on two decades of work, Firelight is undertaking a series of activities (research, virtual events, meetings, and convenings) that examine the inequities that exist in the documentary field, along lines of race and ethnicity, social class, geography, ability, and legal status, and chart a path forward to the creation of a more equitable field. The outcomes of this work are a series of conversations, panels, and papers that will result in building the case for more support for accurate, just, and inclusive narratives by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) filmmakers.

2018 (3 years)

Firelight Media (Firelight) is a nonprofit organization that produces in-depth, impactful documentary films and supports early career nonfiction filmmakers of color through its Documentary Lab program. In 2018, it launched the Culture Shift Initiative, a project that brings filmmakers of color together with social justice organizations to identify positive, inclusive narratives that cut across ethnic groups and produce documentaries that illustrate these; as well as Ground Work, an expansion of its Documentary Lab that provides training to filmmakers of color in cities that are disconnected from major hubs of documentary film, with a particular focus on the Midwest and the South. A MacArthur general operating support grant allows Firelight to build capacity in response to its growing role within the field; this results in more comprehensive support for nonfiction filmmakers of color and stories that are more authentic, just, and inclusive. 

2017 (1 year)

Firelight Media (Firelight) is a nonprofit organization that produces in-depth, impactful documentary films and supports nonfiction filmmakers of color through its Documentary Lab program. This grant supports Firelight to build on its current work for the preliminary stages of the Firelight Culture Shift initiative: a project to produce and strategically distribute short digital documentaries that highlight stories about communities of color and the ways in which they are impacted by critical social issues. The initiative will feature complex stories told by filmmakers directly affected by the key issues. MacArthur support enables Firelight to begin this two-year initiative by funding staff and travel costs associated with this work. The result is that social movement organizations will have a greater understanding of how to use the power of narrative to support a vision for the United States that reinforces its pluralism and diversity and builds connections across disciplines, fields, communities and social movements while countering false and harmful narratives about minority communities.

2015 (3 years 1 month)

Firelight Media’s Documentary Lab is the largest program in the United States aimed specifically at developing the documentary projects and professional skills of emerging documentary filmmakers of color. Each year, 20 independent filmmakers from around the United States at work on their first or second feature-length social issue documentary film are admitted to the Lab. Over the next 12 to 18 months, they receive, free of charge, multidimensional support designed to help them complete and distribute their documentary projects. The work of Firelight Media’s Documentary Lab results in a range of excellently produced, socially relevant nonfiction stories available to the American public, told from diverse perspectives. These documentaries help to engender more empathy about timely topics. Firelight Media is also increasingly experimenting with new models for helping Lab fellows produce and distribute diverse shorter form content to diverse audiences within the public media system.

2014 (4 years)

Firelight Media was established in 2000 as a nonprofit film production company dedicated to the creation of social issue documentary films. Over the years, Firelight’s programs expanded through the establishment of a Community Engagement Division to help organizations and communities use documentary film in their work; and the Producers Lab, an intensive mentorship program to help filmmakers of color successfully complete their documentaries. The MACEI grant will be used to (a) rebuild Firelight Media’s cash reserve, and (b) establish an innovation fund through which Firelight and its Producers Lab Fellows can experiment with new storytelling platforms in the digital space.

2014 (1 year)

Following the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, civil rights groups and legal organizations are engaged in coordinated efforts to raise public awareness of the importance of the Voting Rights Act and to work towards full restoration of its role in preventing disenfranchisement of specific groups of voters. In support of this work, Firelight Media will plan and implement a Community Engagement Campaign for its 2014 documentary "Freedom Summer," which will be paired with current voting rights communication strategies, free community discussion guides, and convening opportunities.

2013 (2 years)

Firelight Media identifies and supports filmmakers of color developing and producing documentary film projects on important and under-reported social issues. This grant supports the Producers Lab, which provides one-on-one mentoring and professional development to a cohort of filmmakers each year, and The Next Step Fund, which is a competitive fund that provides small grants to filmmakers with works in progress.

2011 (2 years)

Created and led by Stanley Nelson, a MacArthur Fellow and award-winning documentary filmmaker, Firelight Media is a nonprofit media organization that provides long-term, one-on-one professional development assistance to independent filmmakers of color. It works with producers and directors with promising documentary film ideas to strengthen every aspect of their project, from the creative and artistic side of the filmmaking process to the business aspects of making, completing and distributing a finished film. This grant enables Firelight Media to begin a small grants program for the producers participating in the Producers Lab, as well as other minority filmmakers.

2001 ( 11 months)

To support a documentary film about the Atlantic slave trade.