Given our current news cycle of constant information and misinformation overload, it can be difficult to get to the heart of the personal, individual stories of those most affected. These stories are often drowned out by the people in power who dictate which stories to tell and how to tell them. Thus, it's just as important to take note of who stands behind a camera as it does who stands in front of it.

As the personal grows even more political in 2018, the question must be asked (to quote a lyric from the hit Broadway musical Hamilton): "Who tells your story?"

Firelight Media, the Stanley Nelson-founded non-profit, nonfiction organization that has spent years amplifying underrepresented stories from underrepresented voices, has been seeking to answer that question. His team has been working extra hard, and last year, their popular Documentary Lab—founded in 2008 for American filmmakers working on their first or second feature-length docs in post-production—expanded its scope by shifting from accepting applications on a rolling basis to announcing a nationwide Open Call. It worked so well that the team is searching nationwide once again to offer opportunities to filmmakers who previously were granted little access due to where they resided in the country.

Thank-you-for-playingDavid Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall's 'Thank You for Playing,' a Firelight Media Documentary Lab alum.

If you're a documentary filmmaker fairly new to the industry, you may not be sure of the right people to reach out to (or even how you should) go about doing so. Asking for help is never easy, and searching for great programs that can offer it are even harder to come by. Here's where the Documentary Lab steps in, running as an 18-month fellowship program that provides filmmakers with "customized mentorship from prominent leaders in the documentary world, funding, professional development workshops and networking opportunities." 

"There are hundreds of talented, diverse filmmakers out there creating work that pushes the boundaries of documentary. These voices are critical to providing new narratives about the most pressing issues of our time,” says Loira Limbal, Vice President and Documentary Lab Director at Firelight Media. “Many of them, however, do not have accessible points of entry to the film industry. Through this open call, Firelight can better reach those filmmakers, support them, and flood the industry with new stories and fresh perspectives.”


It's a great program, and one with a number of success stories—recent alumni include Memories of a Penitent Heart(Tribeca 2017), Whose Streets?(Sundance 2017), and three films in this year's upcoming Tribeca Film Festival: The Feeling of Being Watched, Call Her Ganda, and Mr. Soul! — that have been heralded across festivals, public broadcast, and year-end awards. If you meet the eligibility requirements listed below, you should definitely apply here! Applications are due June 12th, 2018.

Eligibility requirements

  • Applicants should make artful and innovative documentary films that focus on underrepresented communities and provide new narratives about the most pressing issues of our time. Firelight Media will consider all types of long-form documentary projects - historical, investigative, personal, verité, and experimental. Firelight Media utilizes the Core Documentary Application. As part of your submission, you will need to share a work sample no longer than 15 minutes (for projects in production) or a rough cut at any length (for projects in post.)
  • Filmmaker must be from a racially and ethnically underrepresented community.
  • The project must be a long-form/feature-length documentary; the lab does not accept short documentaries, series, or fiction projects of any kind.
  • Film must be a work-in-progress and in production or post-production. We do not accept films in pre-production or completed films.
  • Filmmaker must be an emerging documentary filmmaker (working on first or second feature-length documentary).
  • Filmmaker cannot be in school or submit a student film to the lab.
  • Filmmaker must be based in the United States.

For more information on Firelight Media, check out their website here.